- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 17, 2016

A Houston man who was arrested last week for failing to pay a 30-year-old federal student loan debt is now being ordered to reimburse U.S. Marshals over $1,200 for the cost of arresting him, according to court documents.

Paul Aker told a local Fox affiliate that seven U.S. Marshals showed up at his home and arrested him on Thursday. He said he was brought to a federal courthouse where he was forced to sign up for a repayment plan to pay the $1,500 debt.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Marshals issued a statement saying the situation was more complicated than Mr. Aker indicated.

In the statement, first provided to The New York Times, the Marshals said Mr. Aker told them “he had a gun” when they came to collect his debt.

“After Aker made the statement that he was armed, in order to protect everyone involved, the deputies requested additional law enforcement assistance,” the statement read.

Mr. Aker claims he has never received a written notice about the outstanding debt. The Marshals said they had been trying to collect the debt since 2012, and they were finally able to track him down at his Houston residence.

However, the Marshals acknowledged that they had a warrant for Mr. Aker’s arrest for failing to appear in court, not for failing to pay the debt.

The Fox story that went viral cited an unnamed source with the U.S. Marshals in Houston who said they had plans to arrest another 1,200 to 1,500 people who failed to repay federal student loans.

About 1,500 people in Houston had been identified as having missed court appearances to address their outstanding loans, according to the Marshals, The New York Times reported. 

Typically a person cannot be arrested simply for failing to pay debt in America. The U.S. banned debtors prisons in 1833, and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that those prisons were unconstitutional.

But the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has noted that lenders can obtain judgments against you if you fail to pay.

If “you ignore an order to appear in court, a judge may issue a warrant for your arrest,” the CFPB added, according to Business Insider. “You should never ignore a court order.”

Court documents said Mr. Aker still owes the federal government a total of $2,709.47, including legal fees and interest on the original loan.

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