How did a check for $13.54 help recover a $283,500 judgment? The district court judge awarded the judgment at a bench trial against a small, now defunct construction company and the indemnitor, the sole owner. The insurance company had nothing but cancelled checks to their attorney to show for their collection efforts on their relatively small judgment.
As is the standard procedure for Financial Forensic Services, LLC (FFS), whether called in to find assets to satisfy a judgment for a few hundred thousand dollars or several million, the company’s attorney issued a subpoena to the local bank for copies of the front and back of all debit instruments and all credits for the last 24 months (sometimes for a longer period depending on the circumstances). While creating a spreadsheet as part of the review of the subpoenaed production documents, FFS’s analyst noted a cancelled check for $13.54 payable to a Public Service Company, three states away. The payment was for rural electrical services.
This seemed rather unusual. When was the last time you paid only $13.54 for electrical service? Further research revealed that the address was a rural route with no street address. FFS research staff contacted the post office for that address’ county seat and learned that the location was at the intersection of two county roads. A call to the tax assessor’s office gave us the legal description and the name of the taxpayer and his billing address. The next call was to the county clerk and recorder’s office, where we ordered a copy of the deed for the property. We confirmed that the property consisted of a Section of land (640 acres), but there was not a home at this address – only a barn.
We had learned from the rural route postman that this property had cattle and oil wells on it. Next we called the county livestock auction barn, where we obtained the name and phone number of the area Brand Inspector, who inspects all the livestock bought and sold in the county to help control cattle and horse rustling. We confirmed that the herd of Black Angus cattle on the property belonged to our judgment debtor.
Research with the state oil and gas commission provided us with the name and address of the oil company and their production records for our debtor’s property. A subpoena to the producer resulted in copies of all of the checks they had paid our judgment debtor.
From our research with the tax attorney and the clerk and recorder’s office, we documented that our judgment debtor’s father had purchased this section of land after being discharged from the military after World War II, and it was free and clear of any debt. The man’s wife had preceded him in death so our debtor, his only heir, had inherited the property upon his death.
The $13.54 check paid the bill for the single light bulb hanging in the old barn where our debtor’s retired ag teacher from high school kept the feed for the herd of registered cattle he cared for at the debtor’s request.
We contacted the debtor’s attorney and asked if his client wanted to pay his judgment with oil and gas money, the sale of livestock, or real estate, or if we should ask the court to order the liquidation of these assets to satisfy our client’s judgment.
The debtor immediately provided the full payment of $283,500.
No check is too small, even $13.54. No detail is so insignificant that it should be overlooked in the forensic research t satisfy a client’s judgment.
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