On February 15, Paul Aker appeared on Fox 26 Houston detailing his arrest at the hands of seven U.S. Marshals armed with automatic firearms. Aker told Fox 26 that he was arrested for not paying a $1,500 student loan he received in 1987 from Prairie View A&M University.
The arrest took place on February 18 at Aker’s home in Houston. “They grabbed me, they threw me down,” Aker told the NY Daily News. “Local PD is just standing there.”
Aker was arrested and taken to a federal court in downtown Houston where he said he was faced with a judge, a prosecutor, and a county clerk. Aker told Fox 26 that the prosecutor ended up being a debt collection lawyer.
Aker said he received a “lecture” from the judge about “stealing from the U.S. government.” When Aker asked why the Marshals came in combat gear with weapons drawn, he said he was told it was because he owns firearms.
“It was because they knew I was a registered gun owner. It’s out of control. Out of control. What if they had seen a gun on me? They would have shot me for $1,500 bucks.”
The Daily News reported that Aker was ordered to pay $5,700 for the loan, including interest. He was also ordered to pay nearly $1,300 to cover the cost of his own arrest. Aker has until March 1, he said, or he would be arrested again.
Isiah Carey of Fox 26 also stated that the U.S. Marshals are planning to serve up to 1,500 warrants to Houstonians who have not repaid their loans.
Aker’s arrest became a viral story on Tuesday afternoon and left many people wondering why the federal government was using armed raids to collect on student debt. Although Aker told the NY Daily News and Fox 26 that he was not contacted once in 29 years about the loan, Yahoo Finance has discovered some discrepancies in his story.
According to documents obtained by Yahoo, Aker was sued in November 2007 by the federal government for failing to pay more than $2,600 in unpaid federal student loan debt. Records from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas show that Aker, listed as Winford P. Aker in the complaint, failed to appear in court, leading the judge to rule against him and order him to pay the entire balance by April 17, 2007.
Yahoo reported that a statement from the U.S. Marshals Service claims that Aker repeatedly refused to show up in court after being contacted several times. Aker reportedly told the Marshals he would not appear in court. A few months later, a judge issued a warrant for his arrest and the U.S. Marshals carried it out.
Yahoo wrote, “So, yes, Aker was arrested, but not just because he owed a little student loan debt. He was arrested for disobeying a court order.”
If the Marshals did attempt to contact Aker, they may have been unable to do so because the court record shows a different address than the listing for a “Winford P. Aker” that Yahoo Finance found in the Houston area. The U.S. Marshals Service told Yahoo they made every effort to track him down, “including searching at numerous known addresses.”
Ultimately, the arrest was not made specifically for the failure to pay the student loan but for the failure to appear in court. Still, it seems troubling that a $1,500 debt could lead to an armed raid on one’s home. It’s highly troubling that the U.S. Marshals chose to come with guns simply because Aker was a registered gun owner.
What are your thoughts? At what point does a debt warrant an arrest? Is owning a firearm reason enough to bring armed federal agents to collect a debt?