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Legislators also among collectors' targets

Peter V. Kocot was just one among more than 1,500 consumers who were sued by debt collectors in Northampton District Court in 2004 and 2005. Like many, he was in financial distress, and was being chased for not paying his credit card bills - in his case, $11,000 on four cards.

And like many middle-class Americans, he got into trouble with creditors when his income dropped unexpectedly, but expenses did not. Kocot, however, stands apart in this: He's been the elected state representative from Northampton for the past five years.

Among the hundreds of thousands of Massachusetts residents who have been sued for bad debts in the last several years are at least eight current House members, according to a Globe examination of records in courthouses.

After his creditors won court judgments, Kocot paid off all of the debt late last year by refinancing his mortgage. In 2001, Kocot said, he was unemployed while seeking the legislative seat and his wife was ill and could not work. As a result, he said, ''the credit card debt we had, which was very high, became unmanageable. We had cash-flow problems, and things were very difficult for us.''

''I know my situation is not remarkable,'' Kocot said. ''Now I know how easy it is when you're raising a family to get into financial trouble when one little thing goes wrong and a couple of months' bills mount very quickly and get you into trouble.''

Among Kocot's State House colleagues is at least one who has not paid up, according to records.

Representative Gloria L. Fox, a Boston Democrat, ignored a February 2002 court judgment ordering her to pay $1,787, also for a delinquent credit card account. Records in the Suffolk County Registry of Deeds show that there are two liens on Fox's Roxbury home for unpaid debts - one for the credit card judgment and a second for an unpaid $2,300 contractor's debt.

Fox did not respond to numerous requests for an interview.

Nor did Representative Patrick M. Natale, Democrat of Woburn. Natale, who is a lawyer, was sued twice for credit card debts, in 2001 and 2003. Court records in Woburn show he paid both judgments, more than $9,000. In the 2001 case, he did not pay until the creditor was awarded court authorization to seize his property.

Representative Anne M. Gobi, a Democrat from Spencer, was sued in small-claims court in East Brookfield last year for a $1,955 Sears credit card debt. Gobi said she is convinced she paid it off some years back. But, like many other consumers, she could find records for just some of those payments. She paid the full amount before trial. ''I didn't want the aggravation,'' Gobi said.

Representative Walter F. Timilty 3d, a Milton Democrat, was sued last year in Quincy District Court for $1,345 for not paying for political ads that ran in a local weekly newspaper. Tribune Publications won the case last May 18 when Timilty did not appear for trial. In September, Timilty said, he settled the case for $900.

And there are others. Representative Paul Kujawski, a Webster Democrat, was sued by Household Finance Corp. in 2004 for an overdue $11,189 loan, and he too lost by default when he did not appear for trial, according to court records. Kujawski paid the debt last year. In 2003, he also paid past due state taxes of $11,696. Representative Mark J. Carron, a Democrat from Southbridge, was sued in Dudley District Court for not paying a $405 dentist's bill. The bill was paid before trial, according to the court records, although Carron insisted that he knew nothing about any lawsuit.

On Jan. 31, Representative Marie P. St. Fleur, a Boston Democrat, was picked by Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly to run for lieutenant governor as his running mate. The next day, the Globe reported that St. Fleur had a flock of creditors. In 1997, she had been sued for a delinquent $2,600 gas bill, which was paid a year later. St. Fleur also had an unpaid federal tax bill of more than $12,000 as well as $40,000 in overdue student loans. St. Fleur withdrew from the race.

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