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A lot of commenters come here and complain about how corrupt Philadelphia is, and how there needs to be more hard-nosed reporting on the front. And you know...a lot of commenters are right. And while make no mistake, investigative reporting is hard work -- which why all the job losses in Philly journalism over the last decade have not helped -- choosing a target in this corrupt and contented city is not that difficult. Just put the names of various city agencies on a board and throw a dart! Are you familiar with the First Judicial District? Not many folks (myself included) are, but that's why Daniel Denvir of the City Paper (were we not just talking about him?) is here to help. Check out his great investigative report -- here's how it begins.
This past January, Andre Hawkes got the first of several unpleasant phone calls. "We have your name here," the caller said, explaining that he was collecting old debts for the Philadelphia courts. "If this debt isn't paid, a warrant could be put on you."
Hawkes' immediate reaction was a question: Who are you?
The answer was much more complicated than he could have imagined.
Hawkes was caught up in an aggressive collection effort initiated by the Philadelphia courts — the First Judicial District (FJD) of Pennsylvania — in February 2011. Last October, a City Paper investigation revealed that the program resulted in the harassment of people, often poor, who did not know they owed decades-old debt — or who, in fact, owed nothing at all.
Since then, CP's continued investigation has found that third-party collection agencies hired by the FJD — including one agency whose owners owe the city millions of dollars — have threatened alleged debtors with arrest, outsourced work to a questionable subcontractor and engaged in alleged legal improprieties.