Debt collectors threatened she would be arrested on felony charges and face a St. Clair County judge if she didn't return their calls.
In a lawsuit filed in District Court of East St. Louis, Tonica Wright claims Douglas Burgess and his associates Adam Calhoun and Stacey Erman violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) which prohibits debt collectors from engaging in abusive, deceptive and unfair practices.
"This call is for Tonica Wright, my name is investigating Officer Calhoun," Wright claims Burgess stated in a phone message Dec. 20, 2005. "I am calling in reference to criminal charges that are being filed against you through St. Clair County Court. There are two charges-both felonies, so please do not disregard this message."
According to Wright's complaint, the message continued, "Again, this is a legal investigation. So due to the seriousness of this case, you only have 24 hours uh, to contact me so that I can get a statement from you, get your side of the story.
"If I don't hear back from you within that time frame, we are going to contact the local St. Clair County Sheriff and your local police. You will be arrested, fingerprinted, and have to stand before a St. Clair County Court Judge, so please contact me."
Wright claims that Calhoun's message was faked or was a misleading conversation which violated the FDCPA by representing that non-payment of the debt would result in her arrest or imprisonment.
She also claims that Calhoun's implication that she committed crimes or other conduct in order to disgrace her was in violation of the FDCPA.
Wright also claims that on Feb. 8, Erman left a message on her machine that stated, "My name is Stacey Erman. I am with the fraud department of Burgess Law Office. You are going to need to need your God, Tonica, you had better get praying."
She claims that Erman made calls on Feb. 9 and Feb. 15, one which said in part, "God wants you to call me back" and one that said, "…nice message about God-how dare you have God on your answering machine."
Wright claims the telephone calls caused her to suffer embarrassment, anxiety, extreme emotional distress, loss of calm and sleep and has incurred medical expenses to treat her symptoms.
She is seeking a declaratory judgment that the defendants' conduct violated the FDCPA and the Illinois Consumer Protection Action (ICPA), actual damages, statutory damages pursuant to the FDCPA and the ICPA and any other relief the court deems just and proper.
Wright is represented by Barry Forman of Cahokia.
The case has been assigned to District Judge Michael Reagan.