When Aundra Motsenbocker checked her mail one evening after work in early March, the 37-year-old resident of Lubbock, Texas, was in for something of a shock.
She'd received a letter dated March 2, 2018, from the law firm McCreary, Veselka, Bragg, & Allen (MVBA) saying in bold, red letters that there was a warrant out for her arrest for a supposed theft in San Angelo, Texas, and that she could avoid going to jail if she promptly paid $299 to the firm.
Motsenbocker, a working mother who believed herself to be a citizen in good standing, was taken aback. "I thought what, I'm not a thief, I haven't stolen anything," she tells Reason. "I thought, 'What the heck is going on?'"
Her first reaction was that it was a scam. Though initially from San Angelo, Motsenbocker has not lived there since she was a teenager. Despite being married for some 17 years, the letter was addressed to her maiden name. She spoke to several friends in law enforcement who agreed with her hunch that the letter was likely a fraud.
The following Monday she called MVBA, who refused to answer her questions, instead directing her to the municipal court in San Angelo. To her surprise, a clerk at the court confirmed that there was a warrant out for Motsenbocker, stemming from an incident all the way back in 1992.
"The minutes she said that, I knew exactly what she was talking about," says Motsenbocker.
When Motsenbocker was 12 years old, she had attempted to steal some hair products from a grocery store. She says she was caught before she even left the store and was held until her father and the police arrived. Motsenbocker was charged with the theft, later having to appear before a judge with her father. There she was sentenced to attending a corrective class, which she did.
To her knowledge, that was the end of it. In the succeeding 25 years, she never heard anything about a fine, or an arrest warrant, until the letter arrived this March.
"I'm just like why now?" Motsenbocker tells Reason. "I just feel like they are trying to put bad on me."
Having an arrest warrant issued for the failure to pay a fine is the law in Texas. However, those warrants should be issued upon the failure to pay, not years later.
As to why notice of a warrant would not find their way to a perpetrator until decades after an offense had been committed, staff at the San Angelo municipal court said that it is possible that a person did not give a forwarding address, or that a third party who contracts with the city to collect unpaid fines had not processed information related to the fine until now.
The San Angelo Municipal Court has long contracted with MVBA—the law firm who sent Motsenbocker the letter notifying her of her warrant—to collect on unpaid fines. Indeed, collecting on court fines is a specialty of MVBA, which advertises itself on its website as having "55 years of experience in the collection of local governmental debts, but also the most advanced technological Court Fines & Fees Collection program."
Newsclippings on MVBA's website note that the firm has enabled some Texas localities to collect over 100 percent of what they were expecting each year in taxes thanks to their aggressive pursuit of delinquent tax accounts.
The San Angelo municipal court provides the bulk information on unpaid fines to MVBA, who then must sort through it all, and track down those still in debt to the city. As evidenced by Motsenbocker's story, these unpaid fines can stretch back years, and MVBA is not shy about hyping the threat of arrest until its money is paid.
For Motsenbocker, being hit with a quarter-century-old debt accrued when she was not even a teenager strikes her as potentially professionally damaging. She is currently employed at a pharmacy in a position that requires her to renew her license every two years.
"I definitely wouldn't have been able to work here if there were any kind of bad on my background," she says.
The Texas Department of Public Safety similarly can refuse to issue or renew drivers licenses for people with active warrants and unpaid fines.
Motsenbocker says that she has talked to an attorney and intends to fight the fine she has been given as unfair and unjust.
"It's been 25 years," she tells Reason. "There's been several times throughout the years that they could have tried to collect this money. Why now? I'm 37 years old, you know. I just don't think this is right."