I have been convicted of petit larceny and received a letter from an attorney for Walmart demanding that I pay a civil penalty, must I pay?

If you have been convicted of the crime of petit larceny (an “A” misdemeanor), you may be unlucky enough to receive a letter from an attorney demanding payment for the items allegedly stolen, in addition to a civil penalty. Walmart is one of the companies that hires these attorneys to demand money based upon a conviction of petit larceny that arose from an allegation of theft from one of their stores.

I have seen letters in this regard from Michael Ira Asen, P.C. and almost all of them have related to Walmart. The letters can appear threatening and can cause a lot of concern in those that receive them. Often they demand far more in payment than the value of the items alleged to have been taken. I have even seen these letters sent where the individual convicted did not even get out of the store with the items (and thus, Walmart was never deprived of the items alleged to have been stolen).

While I will not go so far as calling this a scam, it is, in my opinion, very close. These letters and these tactics have been described as a “shakedown” of unwitting and scared individuals that are fearful of dealing with a law firm for an enormous multi-national corporation. But, you should not pay Mr. Asen or any other attorney seeking payment for goods allegedly stolen.

You have three options when facing one of these letters. The most advisable approach is to contact an attorney (or the attorney that handled your criminal case — unless it was a public defender’s office, as they will not likely involve themselves in the civil end of your case) and alert them that you have received this letter. When I have represented individuals that have received one of these letters, I contact Michael Ira Asen and tell him that my client will not be paying, to send all further correspondence directly to my office and that if they wish to proceed to collection they can commence a legal action. I have NEVER received a summons notifying me that my client was going to be sued for not paying this civil penalty. Nor have I ever been contacted again by his office (or any other law firm doing the same type of work).

Your second option is to ignore it. This is your next best option, as I do not advocate paying these penalties. The problem with this option is that these law offices can be persistent and get to the point of harassment. And, if you do not wish to be bothered by these collection letters, you should contact an attorney to dispose of him. Additionally, you should read all correspondence from such a law firm, as you want to be sure that they are not actually filing a lawsuit (something I have never seen them d0).

Your third option is to pay the demand. This is an inadvisable way to proceed, as you do not have to pay him. You could be sued, but it is highly unlikely. And, he cannot do anything to force you to pay without a judgment.

The Wall Street Journal has published an article about these “scams”, that you should read if you are still unconvinced about how this process works.

The reason I have such confidence that you will not be sued is my understanding of the business model of these firms. They essentially go after the low hanging fruit. They will alarm you with letters and/or telephone calls, in hopes that you will just pay them to get them to go away. Apparently, a good number of people pay immediately, because his business (and others like his) continues.