Magazine article Business Credit

The Great "Prestidigitator" ... the Case of the Disappearing Debtor

Magazine article Business Credit

The Great "Prestidigitator" ... the Case of the Disappearing Debtor

Article excerpt

The funniest and most challenging collection I ever attempted happened back in the early '80s. I was a rookie credit manager working for an outdoor advertising company that specialized in billboards and bus shelter ad campaigns.

When I started with this company, I was challenged to collect a $90,000 receivable based on an NSF check tendered by a magician, "The Great Prestidigitator" (not his real name). This individual was a very successful hypnotist who decided to change careers and try his luck as a magician. He purchased outdoor advertising to announce upcoming performances, but after three months, the debt was still unpaid. His shows were not the success he had hoped.

This story is out of the ordinary, quite funny and exhaustive to say the least. The resolution finally provided some gratification for both me and my company.

My first obstacle was to try and find him. In those days, we had no Internet, only private investigators who charged by the hour. Once I had exhausted all efforts to locate this debtor on my own, I turned the file over to a prominent law firm with nationwide offices--many of which became involved in the "Search for SPOC" (Sneaky Person Owing Cash). We found out that he'd be performing in Montreal, so we located the hotel where he was to appear for the two nightly shows. We needed to serve him with our writ of summons, which, by law, we had to hand to him in person. We retained a law clerk from the local attorney's office to serve the papers, but by the time he arrived at the hotel, the debtor was nowhere to be found. According to the hotel manager, "Prestidigitator" snuck out in the middle of the night with his entourage and never paid for his hotel bill, meals and other expenses. Undaunted, we were not going to give up, but our costs to pursue this customer were creeping up to the $20K range. Luckily, my VP of finance gave the go-ahead to continue the chase.

After several months of searching and coming up with dead ends, we found out that he had gone back home to England to lick his wounds. With his magic act bombing, he decided to get back to hypnotizing people, which was his forte. But, not too long afterward, we discovered he was back in Las Vegas and would be returning to Canada (over two years since the date of the bill). By now we had every company employee and law firm employee looking for any kind of advertising announcing the time and place of his next show. Months later, I happened to spot a flyer in a local variety store. I grabbed the flyer gave it to the attorneys and we proceeded to make our plans to serve him with the papers. …

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