I wrote the following
back in 2013 after years of struggle fighting for money owed to me by an
unscrupulous former employer. I shared it with a few people but decided to
post it here when I noticed that someone let the domain rights expire to the
former business website I created and I scooped the rights back up and forwarded
it here. If you are interested I would sell the rights to the web domain
for $33,641.18 (I am VERY negotiable on this
Exploitation of the United States Bankruptcy System and its Fundamental Flaws.
“But I can’t live like
you.” At the time in 2010 I didn’t grasp the whole conveyance of that
statement from my former employer, it was his reply when I told him that I
needed my pay caught up because I had bills falling behind and I was living off
my dwindling savings. My pay was months behind and I had been quite a
gentleman over many years when he had apologetically asked if he could delay
payment by a month or so since he was “running low.” He said he would be
receiving some payments in the next weeks and would be able to make partial
payment at that time. With sympathy for his explanations I agreed but as I
mentally tallied up the invoices from the prior weeks I felt something was
amiss. One month turned to two and that turned to many more months.
“I can’t live like you.” What was the comparison? How exactly did I live that was so much different from him? I was truly caught off guard by this statement and didn’t delve into the depths of his moment of honesty for some time. Some key differences between he and I; since times were tight, I brought an apple and a pack of crackers for lunch each day, whereas his every meal was purchased out. Beer accompanied each of his lunches and wine or hard liquor came with dinner. He spent thousands of dollars on fine cookware, tools, and electronics. I made do with hand me downs and I repaired items to make them last. Frequent lavish vacations, timeshares and the like ensured his relaxation while I typically took no more than a single day off each year. He had to fit the upscale profile for his neighborhood with all the amenities; expensive gifts for family and friends kept his false stature aloft. The poor budgeting seemed hereditary because he regularly bailed his daughter and her husband out of financial straits to the tune of multiple thousands of dollars.
I have always made do with what I have and always lived within my means. Years ago, I was forced to a point most people would have declared bankruptcy; my credit card was at its limit but not from poor budgeting like my employer this was from health related reasons. Though few would have likely faulted me if I chose to walk away from my debt, my conscience held a much stronger presence than did a quick dime. There was no way I could live down skipping out on a debt, even if it was to some far-away impersonal entity of a credit card company. I spent years paying down that debt; I even dropped expensive health insurance to do so. As a diabetic this was a serious gamble, but it was the turning point from red to black. Reaching a zero credit card balance in the face of college debt and the low-incomes of budding careers was a tremendous and rightfully proud accomplishment for my wife and I. We started to build a savings from there.
I was brought up with very strong values gleaned from my grandparents who survived the great depression. I marveled hearing firsthand stories of all they went through and how they survived on so little. This made me not only resourceful but bore sensibility upon me. Growing up working on family farms and helping friends on their farms each year also imparted deep appreciation for what my elders experienced during the great depression and even today this work further builds that sensibility. I wrote the following in the summer of 2011:
“As money becomes tighter, tastes change; food, style, and attitude. I now crave a free meal completely from my garden. I yearn for a find, a cheap sale item that I need becomes an exciting, winning lottery ticket. Work I would have passed up years ago with a scoff becomes a blessing.”
“This year I spent a month and a half on two separate harvests and in that time I was able to reflect uninterrupted for hours on end. Navigating a giant machine over hills and flats as the sun rose and set I pondered how life has changed for me, I thought long and hard about how I was wronged by a man without morals, but I also thought of how I survive no matter the circumstances. We all live within certain means; give a man a million dollars he will find a way to spend it, limit one to the minimum and a resourceful man will find a way to survive. Resourceful I am.”
The most important differences between my former employer Wayne and I are morals. I should have heard his statement for what he was truly saying; “I can’t live like you, you have morals.” So it went that my pay deficiency grew. A little was paid here or there from months prior to quell me and keep me as an employee. As an architectural designer I was beyond loyal to the clients I served and maintained a pleasant but false façade as I worked on each project. Wayne tried to convince me to purchase the architecture business, to which I was initially open. He told me he would discount the real estate and business asking prices to offset my back pay. I researched feasibility of purchasing the business but as time went on it became clear that Wayne would only accept exorbitant amounts for the business or any property. When I finally made it clear that I had no intention of purchasing the business and demanded my pay in full, Wayne had already carefully executed many steps to his own financial freedom, steps that would only be unraveled and revealed in years later through his bankruptcy filings and my research.
The business ended up selling to a college acquaintance of mine who worked together with a former coworker of Wayne’s. Wayne had scoffed at their designs and spoken bitterly of their business practices for many years but then he must have fit in well because he ended up working for them. I was promised my back pay as soon as the check cleared from sale of the business but not so surprisingly the money disappeared.
With more pressuring from me as well as his former girlfriend with whom he co-resided, he placed the office real estate up for sale and promised my full pay as soon as it sold. In the mean time to satisfy $150,000 in joint credit card debt with his former girlfriend, Wayne signed over his half of their house, made huge payments to her and allowed her a $40,000 lien against the office property. I asked for a promissory note stating his intentions and timeframe for my pay but Wayne had put up his guard and was working with various attorneys to further his dishonest agenda. We had now parted ways, but I was still owed nearly nine months of wages. He kept me at bay by paying very small amounts on an irregular basis. As I came barking, the check was always “in the mail.” He sent payments with incorrect information to slow deposits and other times there were insufficient funds which kept the checks from clearing.
When he stopped responding to my calls and e-mails I filed court documents for a judgment. My day in court had finally arrived and I was well-prepared with much documentation and thus I was VERY confident the Judge would quickly act in my favor and help me regain my financial footing. My wife Danielle had accompanied me to the courthouse, but when we saw no sign of Wayne we assumed that the shame of his devious ways had finally gotten the best of him and maybe he just sent his attorney to do the talking. My hearing was Monday at 9:00am but the Judge cleared the room of all cases before I was finally called. When he called my name, his tone seemed different than what I observed for the earlier cases. As I approached the bench, nothing was said, the Judge solemnly handed me a sheet of paper. I read it in slow-motion; it stated that Wayne had filed for bankruptcy protection, at 5:30pm Friday afternoon prior no less. Shaking my head I looked up at the Judge and I could tell he understood my pain. All I could produce was, “Well looks like the humble man gets screwed over huh?” He made it very clear that he agreed. His words following, while intended to ease my suffering were just a jumble of background noise.
My wife in tears and I fighting them back escaped the public’s view and we sat together in our car, numb with disbelief. Rightfully ours, that money was our future, our health, our higher education, parenthood, decent vehicles, replenishment of our now empty savings, the capital to build our new business, the equipment I need to carry on my family farm, that money was our life. At that moment sitting together but each alone, our hopes and dreams all dissolved away.
Anger set in as the stress of juggling bills with no income put a huge strain on my wife and I, our relationship, my family, farm, business, and the like.
Since Wayne’s bankruptcy filing I have unfortunately learned many of the ins and outs of bankruptcy due to the research required in my fight for my salary. I found that Wayne had been meeting with various attorneys over the years who advised him on manners of bankruptcy, steps to take, and purchases exempt from the court. Wayne had been squirreling away money and possessions with his daughter and son-in-law to keep them from the bankruptcy court. Wayne lied to his former girlfriend and I stating that since he had no money he was moving in with his daughter in another nearby city. His former girlfriend a real estate agent and I an architectural designer both know our way around circuit court records, assessments, as well as transfers of real estate, and in short time we both found that he had instead lied to us and purchased a new home.
I had been juggling my bills and cutting out every item in my life that was not absolutely essential. I was forced to sell personal possessions to remain afloat. Farm equipment, welding equipment, tools, my dirt bike, four-wheeler, even my prized surfboards all were liquidated so that I could continue to pay my bills all while trying to afford building a new business. My wife and I decided to cut out television and trim back our phone service. We were forced to stop paying our mortgage and would have been out on the street had we not borrowed the money from my grandmother who so generously allowed us to delay payments. Years after paying down health related credit card debt and going without health insurance, we had planned to soon begin a family and my wife had recently reapplied and purchased health insurance again, we were excited to soon become parents. She had finally crossed the maternity rider minimum coverage time period when we were forced to become uninsured again, tossing away all those premiums and squashing the possibility of parenthood.
My morals and upbringing made me a hard worker and I was taken advantage of by that unscrupulous former employer who saw me as a pushover. Wayne faces no accountability for his actions; to the contrary he was able to write off all his debt. While I took the hit and was struggling to make ends meet living on less than poverty level income he was able to use my salary to buy a new house which is exempt from bankruptcy recovery and continue living his high life as if nothing happened.
Bankruptcy, “the court of last resort” has become where people first turn. Once socially shunned as virtually unacceptable, bankruptcy no longer leaves that black mark. It has become a gray area that washes clean in as little as two years, at which time you can legally repeat the same process.
Bankruptcy is stealing plain and simple. It is grossly abused and very poorly governed. I found the checks and balances of trustees have a disgusting lack of initiative and are forthright insufficient and frankly lazy. Bankruptcy is fundamentally wrong when it breeds the sense that anyone can spend irresponsibly and without limitation then have the protection to walk cleanly away from their dishonest debt only to legally repeat the process in short time.
I spent three years fighting to receive $33,641.18, my rightfully earned wages which were craftily left unpaid by my corrupt former employer. While Virginia classifies this as a felony the Department of Labor and Industry Secretary has chosen not to prosecute. I have been through the courts from General District to Federal level with little assistance. The lack of consequences for debtors only emboldens further exploitation of the United States bankruptcy system. Our values as a nation are upside down when the honest are being saddled with the disregard of the immoral and deceitful.
Financial burdens of this magnitude should not be forced on anyone and to quell this type of stealing will take more than just me. If you feel so inclined, please reach out to your representatives and ask that they take action to curb the growing frivolous bankruptcies that are plaguing our nation. You can use what I have described here as a springboard for the conversation because this immoral exploitation is only growing.