By Ben HallInvestigative Reporter
As the economy gets worse, their business gets better.
There were more than 16,000 repossessions in Tennessee last year.
But an exclusive NewsChannel 5 investigation reveals the industry is surprisingly unregulated, and some in the repo industry believe the lack of oversight has led to violent, even deadly encounters.
Ray Crocker is a Nashville repo-man who has been in the business more than 25 years.
He hates the way repo-men are portrayed on TV reality shows.
"You can't do anything illegal. You can't manhandle somebody," Crocker said referring to a scene from one of the shows.
Crocker worries about the rising violence in the repo industry.
"We've got guys who think just because they have a tow truck, they're a repossessor," Crocker said.
There's no training required for repo company employees in Tennessee or most states across the country.
Crocker believes that puts the public at risk.
In Overton County earlier this year, two repo drivers chased down a man in a truck they were trying to repossess.
Tennessee Highway Patrol documents indicate they pulled their tow truck in front of the fleeing truck causing a crash that killed the driver.
It is one of at least seven repo-related deaths nationwide in the last five years.
Rosalie Marshall called for help when repo men came to take a van she had just bought.
"I didn't believe it was a repo man at first," Marshall said. "I truly didn't."
Marshall had no reason to think her van was being repossessed because she hadn't missed a payment.
But according to court documents, the dealer told the repo man to take her van by whatever means necessary because of a dispute over the interest rate.
As Marshall was on the phone with police and trying to get out her baby's car seat, she found herself being dragged down her driveway.
"Next thing I know, he's driving out of the driveway and my leg is stuck. This leg is dragging and I'm going all the way over and I just finally fell down," Marshall said.
She was on crutches for weeks.
Police caught the repo man, Charles Bowden, who had a criminal record, and returned her car.
"The idea that these people are getting their jobs without any training and any knowledge of the law is actually a dangerous combination," said Rosalie's husband, Roy Marshall.
Repo companies are not allowed to breach the peace. Ray Crocker says that means if someone orders repo men off their property, they should leave.
No oversight of the repo industry means there's no criminal background check for employees.
In Davidson County, people in the repossession business need only to get a towing permit if they drive a wrecker, but records reveal Metro gives permits to people even with long criminal histories.
Jonathan Fuqua listed 19 arrests, convictions or traffic tickets on his wrecker application including convictions for assault, reckless driving and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Jason Swafford lists 30 arrests including convictions for assault, criminal impersonation and driving on a revoked license.
Despite all that, both were approved by the Transportation Licensing Commission and are working at a Nashville repo company.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked the Director of the Commission, "How did these people get permits?"
Brian McQuistion responded, "There is no law that regulates repossessors in Tennessee."
McQuistion wants to make it tougher for people with certain felonies to get a wrecker permit. He plans to present proposed new rules to his board in the coming weeks.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "Is this number of arrests unusual?"
McQuistion responded, "I wish it was very unusual, but it's not."
For years Ray Crocker has been pushing the legislature to regulate repo companies with no success.
It may not be a pretty business, but Ray Crocker says it should never put people like Rosalie Marshall at risk.
"I thought I was going to die," Marshall said. "I thought my son was going to get run over."
Three states require repo licenses that include a criminal background check. They are Florida, California and Illinois.
Efforts to get a similar law passed in Tennessee have failed.
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