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'Don't argue with us'

Marie LoConte had her close encounter with constables shortly after midnight on July 28, 2004, when her doorbell rang.

LoConte, 41, made her way down the stairs from her second-floor apartment and found three men wearing blue uniforms and badges. ''They looked like police officers. I thought they were,'' LoConte said. One of them, she recalls, was tapping his nightstick in the palm of his hand while another informed her they were there to seize her 1997 Ford Thunderbird for an unpaid credit card debt.

''Don't argue with us,'' she heard him say.

Terrified, LoConte said, she called Taunton police, who offered little sympathy. The constable brandishing the nightstick was playing by the rules, she says she was told, as long as he didn't hit her with it. ''I didn't sleep all that night. I couldn't stop crying. I was shaking,'' LoConte said.

LoConte is disabled as a result of lupus and Crohn's Disease. She lost her cleaning business more than a decade ago, and, by 2000, had stopped making payments on a $430 Providian credit card balance. She wound up paying $1,758, draining her savings and borrowing from a friend, to erase the debt and get her car back.

Of that, $158 went to the tow lot, which kept her car for a day, and $800 to the constables, dispatched by Sorenson's firm. To ransom the car, LoConte had to drive 70 miles to Sorenson's office in Chelmsford to pay her bill, then another 55 miles to a Bridgewater tow lot.

For Jeanmarie Fitzpatrick, the constable's visit was even more costly. An $800 constable's fee would have seemed a bargain to her.

When Dorsey, the former bar manager turned constable, arrived at her door last Dec. 14, he demanded $1,250 in fees for seizing her 2000 Dodge Neon.

Fitzpatrick, a 37-year-old single mother who lives in South Boston's D Street public housing project, was about to drive her three children to school when Dorsey drove up and blocked her car. Fitzpatrick figured it must be something to do with unpaid parking tickets; she said she

Marie LoConte of Taunton ran into debt problems after she became disabled. To get back her car, seized for a $430 credit card bill, she paid $1,758, including $800 in constable fees.
(Globe Staff Photo / Michele McDonald)

had no idea there were court judgments against her for two delinquent credit card accounts, totaling $3,800. That's because Norfolk Financial Corp., the debt collector who sued Fitzpatrick, had given the court the wrong address. She says she was never notified of the lawsuit, and a Globe check of court and public records shows she's right.

''They went out of their way to find my car but they didn't go through the trouble to find my address'' to notify me about the lawsuit, Fitzpatrick said. ''That's what kills me.''

Dorsey, she said, turned aside her tearful plea that he wait to take her car until she could drop the children at school.

Dorsey's fee for having her car hauled away: $625. But since he was holding two pieces of legal paper for taking just one car, he demanded $1,250. The car was sold at auction for just $1,000, even though it had a resale value of about $4,000.

''It's a week before Christmas. I have three kids,'' Fitzpatrick said. ''These people have absolutely no heart.''

Dorsey, asked in an interview why he demanded twice the normal $625 fee, said: ''It was two different cases.'' If he had handled them separately, Dorsey contended, he would have been justified in seizing her car twice.

''I explained everything to her,'' Dorsey said. ''I'm not out to screw people.''

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