CORNELIUS – A Cornelius resident and three debt-collection companies he operates are the subjects of a temporary restraining order obtained this week by North Carolina’s attorney general.
Attorney General Josh Stein was granted the order against Cornelius resident Gordon Scott Engle, a resident of Green Dolphin Lane in Cornelius, and Engle’s Texas-based debt collection firms – Turtle Creek Assets Ltd. (TCA), Turtle Creek Rentals LLC (TCR), and Royal Park Holdings Inc. – in action related to a lawsuit Stein filed alleging illegal debt collection practices.
The temporary restraining order, signed by Superior Court Judge A. Graham Shirley, prohibits the defendants from engaging in debt collection practices or unfair or deceptive acts, destroying or removing business and financial record and seeking criminal summonses in North Carolina until a preliminary injunction hearing.
“I’m grateful that these debt collectors won’t be able to threaten North Carolina consumers as this case continues,” Stein said. “My office will not allow companies to illegally operate in our state and mistreat hardworking people.”
The lawsuit alleges that between 2012 and 2018, Engle used his debt collection companies to purchase unpaid consumer debt from Aarons Inc., a national corporation that sells customers rent-to-own household furniture, appliances and electronics.
The allegations are that since 2018, Engle has collected or attempted to collect on these unpaid debts from North Carolina consumers. However, Engle’s companies are registered in Texas, and he failed to file the appropriate registration to operate in North Carolina with the North Carolina Secretary of State or obtain the necessary permits to operate as a collection agency from the North Carolina Department of Insurance.
The filed complaint alleges customers received collection notices from TCA or TCR telling them they had committed a criminal violation by failing to return rented property. These notices appear to be, but are not, official court notices. Some of these letters include unsigned criminal summonses that appear to be real, but do not have any legal effect, and were delivered by hired private police officers.
The companies, according to the complaint, threatened to file a criminal complaint against consumers if they failed to return the rented property to a specified address within 48 hours. When consumers contacted TCA or TCR, they received more unlawful debt collection threats, including threats of arrest.
The complaint also alleges that, in addition to sending unsigned summonses, Engle and his companies filed hundreds of criminal complaints with misleading language in several North Carolina counties that resulted in actual criminal summonses being issued against customers.
Stein is alleging Engle and his companies violated North Carolina’s Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act, Business Corporation Act, Professional Corporation Act, Uniform Partnership Act, and North Carolina’s Prohibited Practices by Collection Agencies Engaged in Collection of Debts from Consumers.
In addition to the temporary restraining order he was granted, Stein is also seeking civil penalties, restoration of money paid, restitution as well as preliminary, and permanent, injunctive relief.
The court order, filed July 15, gives Engle’s firms 10 days to provide a complete list of North Carolina consumers they have collected or attempted to collect from, including those not related to Aaron's, Inc.
In addition, the defendants are ordered to appear at the Wake County Courthouse on Monday, July 22, if they wish to be heard in regards to the State motion for a preliminary injunction.