Can you really be arrested by federal marshals for a decades-old student loan debt? Yes. It happened in Houston last week, and more arrests may be on the way.
A report by Fox26/Houston says Paul Aker was arrested at his home last week because of a $1,500 student loan dating back to 1987.
"He says seven deputy U.S. Marshals showed up at his home with guns and took him to federal court where he had to sign a payment plan for the 29-year-old school loan," the report says.
In an interview, Aker contends that there was no contact within the last 30 years regarding the debt and that, as the reporter relates, "seven people in combat gear with automatic weapons" arrived unexpectedly at his front door.
"I was wondering why are you here? Why are U.S. Marshals knocking on my door?" Aker said. "Totally mind boggling. I was told I owed $1,500, and I couldn't believe it."
The Fox26 interview with Aker is dramatic -- but leaves out some important information.
An official statement issued by the U.S. Marshals office, provided to TheStreet by spokeswoman Donna J. R. Sellers, fills in the missing details.
"Since November 2012, U.S. Marshals had made several attempts to serve a show cause order to Paul Aker to appear in federal court, including searching at numerous known addresses," the statement says. "Marshals spoke with Aker by phone and requested he appear in court, but Aker refused. A federal judge then issued a warrant for Aker’s arrest for failing to appear at a December 14, 2012, hearing."
When two deputy U.S. Marshals arrived at Aker's residence, apparently things got a bit more complicated.
"When they attempted to arrest him, Aker resisted arrest and retreated back into his home," the Marshals Service statement continues. "The situation escalated when Aker verbally said to the deputies that he had a gun. After Aker made the statement that he was armed, in order to protect everyone involved, the deputies requested additional law enforcement assistance. Additional deputy marshals and local law enforcement officers responded to the scene. After approximately two hours, the law enforcement officers convinced Aker to peacefully exit his home, and he was arrested without further incident."
So, you can be arrested for unpaid student loans. However, first you will have to ignore repeated collection notices and refuse to appear in court.
Aker signed a payment agreement for the $1,500 student debt, and along with $1,300 to reimburse the Marshals office for the expense of his arrest, plus penalties, interest and other fees, his bill now totals over $5,000.
In fact, the U.S. Marshals Service tells TheStreet others may soon experience visits by local authorities.
"In Houston, approximately 1,500 individuals have been identified by the court as defaulting on federal loans," Nikki Credic-Barrett, a spokeswoman with the U.S. Marshals Service, said in an email response to TheStreet's inquiry. "These individuals have not been contacted yet to address their debt in court."
Bottomline: unpaid student loans never go away.