Uniformed men in Erie, PA are using threats of incarceration and violence to compel persons whom their employer has a disagreement with to appear in an oak-doored room with a bench and a witness stand. There, a man in a black robe, also an employee, uses further threats to intimidate those people into giving up bank accounts and even titles to their cars.
In an unusual case, an Erie debt collector is alleged to use those same tactics. An ABC affiliate in Pittspurgh, WTAE, reports the “shocking” details.
The Attorney General's Office told Team 4 that Unicredit lured debtors to the building by sending employees who appeared to be sheriff's deputies to their homes, implying that they would be taken into custody if they failed to appear at the phony [sic] court hearings.
"It really galls me that someone would stoop that low," Erie County Sheriff Robert Merski said. "This certainly seems to be a scam, and it upsets me that they are trying to play on the integrity of this office, the office of sheriff. We've been here since the beginning of the United States."
The old saw, “Don't steal – the government doesn't like competition,” stands out in stark relief as the Pennsylvania Attorney General has filed a lawsuit against Unicredit for imitating the actions of the Erie County Sheriff and courts.
"This is an unconscionable attempt to use fake court proceedings to deceive, mislead or frighten consumers into making payments or surrendering valuables to Unicredit without following lawful procedures for debt collection," [AG Tom] Corbett said. "Consumers also allegedly received dubious 'hearing notices' and letters - often hand-delivered by individuals who appear to be Sheriff Deputies - which implied they would be taken into custody by the Sheriff if they failed to appear at the phony court for 'hearings' or 'depositions'."
The fake [sic] courtroom allegedly contained furniture and decorations similar to those used in actual court offices, including a raised "bench" area where a judge would be seated; two tables and chairs in front of the "bench" for attorneys and defendants; a simulated witness stand; seating for spectators; and legal books on bookshelves. During some proceedings, an individual dressed in black was seated where observers would expect to see a judge.
Neither the WTAE reporters nor the Attorney General go on to explain how one uniformed man is “official”, and can deliver hearing notices, subpoenas, and letters, but another is not. Neither detail the differences between a “fake” courtroom and one that is allegedly “actual”, nor do they expound on the difference between “an individual dressed in black” and a “judge”.
But, I don't expect anyone to take the time to explain what makes one set of authoritarian sociopaths “right” and another set “wrong”. Questioning such things is akin to questioning the tenets of religious faith. Other, perhaps far more interesting, questions, however, have been answered.
First, what would make a group of individuals, such as Unicredit, stoop to creating such elaborate, imitative theater complete with compulsion by threats of violence, if indeed Unicredit behaved as alleged? Second, why is this so unbelievably believable, not just by the debtors they compelled to appear in their courtroom, but as a news story?
In 1791, Thomas Paine confronted similar questions head on, responding to Edmund Burke's allegations of street justice during the storming of the Bastille during the French Revolution. In The Rights of Man, Paine wrote:
More of the citizens fell in this struggle than of their opponents; but four or five persons were seized by the populace and instantly put to death; the Governor of the Bastille, and the Mayor of Paris, who was detected in the act of betraying them; and afterwards Foulon, one of the new ministry, and Berthier, his son-in-law, who had accepted the office of intendant of Paris. Their heads were struck upon spikes, and carried about the city; and it is upon this mode of punishment that Mr. Burke builds a great part of his tragic scenes. Let us therefore examine how men came by the idea of punishing in this manner.
They learn it from the Governments they live under, and retaliate the punishments they have been accustomed to behold. The heads stuck upon spikes, which remained for years upon the Temple Bar, differed nothing in the horror of the scene from those carried about upon spikes at Paris; yet this was done by the English Government. It may perhaps be said that it signifies nothing to a man what is done to him after he is dead; but it signifies much to the living; it either tortures their feelings or hardens their hearts, and in either case it instructs them how to punish when power falls into their hands.
Lay then the axe to the root, and teach Governments humanity. It is their sanguinary punishments which corrupt mankind.
As succinctly demonstrated by Paine, though it may be heretical to question the official religion of statism, the mystics and priests are the ones with their heads “struck upon spikes, and carried about the city” when the congregation does. Might this be an opportunity for the many offices of the sheriff, the many courts, and the many attorneys general to look in the mirror of Unicredit and see the result of their thuggish ways? Could this be the perfect time for WTAE reporters to question rather than cheer the state and their “sanguinary punishments”?
As always, I won't be holding my breath.