Captain Hook

Meet the repo man. He wants to steal your car. He has a legal right to steal it. And you don't have a chance.

Negron doesn't much care for the movie because it makes repo men seem too weird. In truth, however, people like Negron are unusual. Essentially they are car thieves with a license to steal. While Negron won't deny that his type of work attracts unique personalities, his decision to cooperate in preparing this article was based in part on his desire to prove that not all repo men are freaks. (He is a normal family man with a wife and two young daughters.) In addition, the industry has adopted certain standards to promote professionalism and gain a little respect. Recovery agents, as repo men like to be called, must be licensed by the State of Florida, undergo an FBI criminal background check, and be properly insured.

Approximately 700 people in Florida are licensed to do the work. And for every person with a license, state officials estimate there are two more operating without one -- cowboys with a tow truck who work illegally and offer cut-rate prices, mainly to used-car dealers. Often they keep costs down by not purchasing insurance. Negron, for instance, spends more than $6000 per year on business insurance.

Efforts to contact several other repo men for comment as part of this article were unsuccessful -- either they would not return phone calls or flatly refused to participate in any sort of story about their trade. Even Joe Taylor, executive director of the Florida Association of Licensed Recovery Agents, the industry's advocacy group, refuses to answer questions. The media, he charges, consistently depict repo men as heartless vultures. "We have never had an article that has portrayed this industry accurately," he explains angrily. But what about the movie? Has he seen Repo Man? "Yeah," Taylor responds. "It stunk."

One recent night Negron receives orders to pick up sixteen cars, and the prospect excites him. (His previous record haul for a single evening: ten cars.) In addition to his assistant, Henry, he decides to enlist the help of two others, Luis and Emilio. While Emilio scouts for cars in South Dade, Luis and Henry search North Dade. Negron himself heads to Broward.

As Negron pulls off I-95 at the Stirling Road exit, his walkie-talkie crackles with good news. "We've got one!" Henry announces. "We're taking it right now." It is a little past 2:00 a.m., and Negron is pleased. "One for one," Negron answers back. "Good job."

With his spirits boosted, Negron becomes chatty. Driving past a corner of the Seminole Indian reservation, he points to his right, as if in the distance he can see the car, a Mustang, that prompts this story:

A year ago he contacted the owner of the Mustang to inform him he could either make his overdue payment or have the car repossessed. The owner told Negron to just take the car because he couldn't afford the payment.

So Negron happily obliged. He was nearly twenty miles away from the owner's home when he saw the flashing red lights of a reservation police officer in his rear-view mirror. Negron pulled over and told the officer he had the owner's permission to repossess the car. "But the cop told me the guy had changed his mind, that he wanted the car back," Negron recalls, adding that he had no choice but to return the Mustang. "Now, that's the true definition of an Indian giver." Negron laughs at his own joke.

But why return the car? If it had happened anyplace else, Negron says, he wouldn't have been so generous. But when a reservation cop tells you to do something, you do it and you don't ask any questions. Or as Negron phrases it: "You don't fuck around on the reservation. Period."

When he reaches the Cooper City neighborhood he's been searching for, he realizes the address is within a walled, private housing development, complete with security guards and gates. "Shit," he grumbles. "This is going to be a problem."

He pulls alongside the guard shack. "Good morning," he begins, sweet as can be. "Can you open the gate, please?"

"Who are you?" the guard asks.
"I'm a licensed recovery agent. Please open the gate."
"A what?"
"A licensed recovery agent."

Negron begins tensing up. He goes into the hard sell in hopes of dazzling the guard. "I'm here to pick up mortgaged collateral that is being concealed here on the premises," he declares in his most authoritative voice. "Please, open the gate."

"You're what?" the guard asks, clearly confused.
Negron reaches into his back pocket, removes his wallet, and quickly flashes his credentials -- a laminated card, issued by the state, verifying that is he a licensed repo man.

"What the hell was that?" the guard asks.
"I'm licensed by the State of Florida to do repossessions," Negron finally offers. "We've got a major skip in there, and I need to take their cars. Please, open the gate."

"Oh," the guard says in recognition, "you're a repo man." Negron cringes at the term. "Well, I can't let you in there," the guard continues. "If you take somebody's car, they're going to be mad." He suggests Negron try the gate at the other end of the development. "Maybe the guard there will let you in," he says, adding that if the other guard calls the Cooper City police, the cops could act as Negron's escort. If the owner of the car later complains, the guards can blame the police.

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