A Minnesota process serving company and one of its process servers are charged with falsely claiming some people were served with debt collection lawsuits, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday by Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson.
Wadena, Minn.-based TJ Process Service, along with Jeremy Umland, one of its process servers, allegedly engaged in what is commonly called "sewer service" - referring to a false certification by a process server that a lawsuit has been served.
TJ Process Service and Umland in some cases provided creditors and debt buyers with affidavits stating that a lawsuit was served on an individual defendant by Umland. In some cases, Umland claimed that a lawsuit was served on a person at their home address, when the person was not home or did not reside at that address.
An example cited in a news release from Swanson's office states that Umland claimed to serve:
A 73-year-old man at a home he had lost to foreclosure three years earlier;
A woman at a home address at which she had not lived for 11 years;
A person at her home address when records showed that she was at work.
In his sworn deposition, TJ Process Service officials admitted that Umland engaged in sewer service while acting as a process server for the company, as follows:
"Q: [Y]ou believe 100% he [Umland] engaged in sewer service?
A: Yes. What percentage and how many times that was, I dont know."
The lawsuit alleges that some of the companys process servers pre-signed papers through a printer to add details to the service and the companys secretary then notarized the papers falsely swearing that she had witnessed the process server sign affidavits under oath attesting to their contents, according to a news release from the attorney general.
"One of the most fundamental legal rights in the American judicial system is the right of a person to be notified of claims made against the person in court. Sewer service deprives a person of the opportunity to appear in court to defend against the claims made in a lawsuit," said Swanson.
Swanson has cracked down on collection agencies and debt buyers that have skirted laws in the state. Earlier this year, she sued collection agency Bradstreet and Associates for allegedly breaking state law by charging as much as 22% in bogus interest on old bank overdrafts and fees. The lawsuit involves $18 million in debt and unknown interest costs that the firm was pursuing from people who overdrew Wells Fargo and U.S. Bank accounts.
Swanson said the assessed interest rates weren't allowed in customers' original banking contracts and were many times what state law allows. Bradstreet sometimes went to court to get default judgments that tacked on thousands of dollars to the original amount of bounced checks, she added.