A Wayzata debt collector who allegedly told a debtor “I will hunt you down like a dog” was ordered by state regulators to cease operations in Minnesota.
Steven Westlund, who does business under the names Five Star Group of Minnesota Ltd. and Commercial Surveillance Bureau, operated without a license and made a series of threatening comments while trying to collect a debt, according to a recent cease-and-desist order issued by the Minnesota Department of Commerce. He faces fines that could exceed $60,000, Commerce Department officials said.
Westlund allegedly told an unidentified Minnesota contractor that, “I will come to your home and get the money out of you” and “hunt you down like a dog if you don’t send me money now.” He also threatened to contact every company and financial institution that the contractor did business with, as well as have the contractor’s license taken away. He also called the contractor’s home after 9 p.m.
Telephone numbers to Westlund and his businesses were not working Thursday, and he could not be reached. He did not attend a scheduled hearing on Wednesday to dispute the allegations, Commerce Department officials said.
The Commerce Department stated in its order that the alleged threats violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), a federal law that prohibits third-party collectors from harassing debtors. Under state law, the Commerce Department can discipline collectors and collection agencies for violating the FDCPA.
In May 2009, the Commerce Department asked Westlund to respond to the complaint from the unidentified contractor. In addition to denying allegations of abuse, Westlund claimed he was a “business consultant,” not a debt collector, and therefore was not in violation of the FDCPA. However, two months later, Westlund acknowledged he had been working as a commercial collector but was unaware he needed a license, according to the cease-and-desist order.
The Commerce Department, continuing its investigation, claims to have found more abuse. Westlund allegedly sent an e-mail under an alias that included a threat against the debtor’s building contractor’s license. In an e-mail to a client, Westlund wrote about how he banged on the door of a debtor.
“These people are typical deadbeat contractors. I will persist!” he allegedly wrote in the e-mail.
The recent enforcement action comes as complaints against debt collectors reach all-time highs, both nationally and in Minnesota. The state Commerce Department received 1,042 telephone complaints against debt collectors in 2009, up from 518 in 2008. The Commerce Department has taken 26 enforcement actions against collectors this year, more than in all of 2009.
By CHRIS SERRES, Star Tribune
© 2010 Star Tribune