Extreme Repo: Meet the Men Who Take Off With Planes, Ships and ... Cattle?

Men behind extreme repo jobs play by the rules even if they have to bend them.

ByABC News
September 21, 2010, 10:58 AM

Sept. 22, 2010— -- It's one thing to haul away a Honda when the owners didn't make car payments. But what happens when the late payments are on a cargo freighter, a 747 or ... cattle?

In an era of big economic loss, the jobs facing repo men can be daunting -- logistics nightmares, some say. But behind the stories of making off with planes in the night or hiring prostitutes for recon are guys looking for an honest day's work.

"I think people think you go in with guns blazing. You don't," said Nick Popovich, owner of Indiana-based Sage-Popovich, Inc., which specializes in repossession of big-ticket items such as commercial airplanes. "Literally you have to outsmart them. You have to figure out how to get their airplane without anyone stopping you."

What these men aren't are muscled, mullet-sporting hotheads, a stereotype perpetuated by movies and so-called reality shows that claim to delve into the true-life of a repo man.

Jim Hall, owner of the Dallas-based Hall Recovery Specialists and president of the American Recovery Association, dislikes the term "repo man" so much that he prefers to refer to himself as a "recovery specialist."

"I guess if it comes down to it, we all know what we are," he conceded.

Whatever you call them, they have enough stories to entertain a dinner party for hours.

Popovich, 58, specializes in aircraft recovery, but has also repossessed yachts, tugboats, even a racehorse.

His proudest moment is making off with two jetliners owned by a French tycoon whose label is found on the shelves of the most upscale stores.

"We went and told him he needed to pay up and he kind of laughed at us," Popovich said of the 1998 job. "And told us... this was France and we'd never get the airplanes."

After successfully flying one of the planes out of Milan following an engine change, Popovich hit a snag on a Paris runway. Busted, he ended up in front of a French magistrate and was deported.

"We snuck back through Madrid and got the plane two weeks later," he said.

Popovich never heard from the tycoon.

Even elite repo men have the same restrictions as run-of-the-mill jobs. They can't breach the peace. If the owner catches them and puts up resistance, they have to walk away.