For Those in Debt, It Might Be 'Too Late'

If you've got debt, Kent Colpaert and Jeff Henderson have likely got your number — and they will find you.

"By the time I'm knocking on your door, it's too late," said Colpaert.

"I have a job to do, and I'm going to do it to the best of my ability, and when I show up at your door, I'm taking it," Henderson said.

Henderson and Colpaert are "repo men" who want what you owe. And until it's theirs, no amount of pleading, crying or bargaining will stop them.

"We hear all the stories and all the reasons why," said Colpaert. "The stories are sad, but primarily we have a job to do, and if I don't get it done, someone else will."

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Henderson repossesses boats, while Colpaert reclaims homes. In these hard economic times, banks have been handing them case after case.

"By the time they see me, the boat is going to be gone," Henderson said.

Boats and Banks

Henderson and Colpaert have had their share of ugly confrontations — Henderson says he's been shot at — but that's the exception, not the rule. The job is more of a cat-and-mouse game.

"Nightline" tagged along as Henderson confronted a woman who he says was chronically late on her boat payments.

"She has been late many, many times, several times over 30 days, four times over 60 days, and even twice over 90 days," Henderson said.

He wanted to know the location of the boat, but the woman told him the check was in the mail. Henderson gave her the benefit of the doubt … for the time being.

"Tomorrow morning I will contact the bank and talk to the adjuster over the phone," Henderson said. "I'll check to see if that payment has posted. Sometimes, it's the weekend and it may not, so I will give it another day."

In the meantime, there were plenty of other boats to grab. Henderson's repo targets have included CEOs, pro athletes, a Motown legend and a well-known televangelist.

His impound lot is so crowded that he had to rent more space. And if you think your closet's full, you should see Henderson's storage shed, which houses items people have never bothered to claim.

"We've picked up boats that have hockey goals or soccer goals on them sometimes," Henderson said. "One time, I picked up a boat that had a parrot. It was talking and stuff. It scared the hell out of me."

In addition to the increase in business, Colpaert and Henderson often have to make return visits when debtors don't cooperate. Henderson said that the bank never received a payment from the woman who told him the check was in the mail, so he headed back to her home.

Foreclosure Fallout

Henderson and Colpaert operate in the Detroit area, which has seen a perfect storm of economic folly. Layoffs in the auto industry and the subprime mortgage crisis have led to a tidal wave of foreclosed homes.

Colpaert has seen the foreclosure dominoes fall, even in nice neighborhoods.

"Those things tend to destroy a neighborhood one house at a time," he said. "You know, a neighbor down the street loses their home to foreclosure, and then by the time you got 10 homes on the block like that, the neighborhood's going down."

Even in a profession accustomed to shady characters, Colpaert's days leave him raw. He usually works alone and carries a gun, but has never fired it.

"It's always nerve-wracking," he said. "You've got to keep that edge."

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