TUCSON - A company that's supposed to collect overdue bills is in trouble for allegedly not paying its own bills.
"A lot of people are going to be affected by this," says Keeley Ambrose, who manages Robbins Chiropractic Center, on West Fort Lowell Road.
As with other businesses, Robbins has used a collection agency, Surety Acceptance Corporation, to try to get overdue bills paid. Ambrose says that in early June, Surety suddenly stopped responding to all calls. The company, which has many clients and has been in business since 1973 according to its web site, apparently shut down without warning.
Ambrose told the News 4 Tucson Investigators, "It really makes me wonder what people are thinking. How can they just disappear and not tell anybody where they're going?"
We went to the Surety Acceptance Corporation office on East Broadway. The door was locked and on it was a notice from the landlord saying he's taken possessions, and all property inside is subject to a lien. In other words, it appears Surety, a company that collects bills, stopped paying its bills.
Then we did some investigating and found out that the Arizona Department of Financial Institutions has suspended Surety from doing business and, among other penalties, has fined it $20,000.
The suspension order says Surety has:
In other words, the state wants to know if Surety collected payments but did not pass them on to the businesses they collected for.
Ambrose said, "So people could be sending checks to them and they're collecting it and they're nowhere to be found. People owe money and they've been paying and they need to get credit for it."
We called and emailed Surety's attorney, Joubert Davenport, last week, requesting an interview. He called us the day after the story first aired. Davenport said Surety's President and CEO, 76 year-old Kathleen Drury, is in hospice care, and that Surety is trying to work out the problems with the State. In the state's Order of Suspension, an examiner reported that Drury blamed the company's vice president for the problems, saying she was not actively involved recently due to illness. She said the VP "unilaterally fired all the employees and closed the business without her knowledge."
Susanne Miller of the Better Business Bureau of Southern Arizona says "Due to the government's action that we have, Surety Acceptance Corporation now has an F rating."
Miller also has advice for anyone who has a bill from Surety. "Do not pay Surety," she says. "Reach out to the actual company [that you owe] and make arrangements directly with them." Miller offers more tips at the end of this story.
Keeley Ambrose of Robbins Chiropractic has this message for Surety: "Please come forward please let us know what's going on. We just want our records back. We want to know whether our patients have paid you and any of the debtors in Tucson."
If you paid Surety and have proof, there is a bond in place that will cover money sent to Surety but not forwarded to the creditors.
Time is running out for Surety to provide answers to the state. If it doesn't soon, the state could revoke Surety's license, putting it out of business in Arizona for good.
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What can consumers do when a business closes its doors? Below are some tips from the BBB:
1. Send a registered letter to the company last known address asking the owner to contact you. Even if the business is closed, the mail may be subject to a forwarding order. You can also pay a visit to your Post Office to see if the company has a forwarding address.
2. Check with the landlord or property owner to see if the business left a contact number or address.
3. If you don know the name of the principals, check with your city or county clerk office, or the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC), www.azcc.gov. The ACC has a free public access system that allows consumers to search for information on corporation filings in the state.
4. If the business is regulated, such as attorneys, doctors, engineers, employment services, new car dealers, etc., contact the licensing agency. If you not sure whether the company is regulated or by which office, contact your BBB at 520-888-5353. BBB staff can tell you how to contact the appropriate regulatory authorities.
5. Contact the Clerk of the Bankruptcy Court in the area where the company was located (www.azb.uscourts.gov or 520-202-7500) to see if the company may have filed for bankruptcy.
6. If you are successful in locating the owner and the business is not in bankruptcy, you are still owed your services, product or money. Closing a business does not relieve the owner of his or her obligation to you. If you cannot obtain an appropriate settlement from the company, file a complaint with the Attorney Genera office (www.azag.gov), with Small Claims Court or seek the help of an attorney.
7. If the company has filed for bankruptcy, you should file a claim with the Bankruptcy Court. The Court will suspend the company obligation to creditors and customers until it approves a plan to reorganize or liquidate the company. Under the plan, you as a claimant, may or may not get all or part of what you are owed.
8. Stay in touch with your Better Business Bureau. Its own investigation and contact with consumers means it receives information daily on a number of changes in business location and ownership and may be able to help you.