Car Trouble

A Sudanese refugee finds himself sinking into a financial pit after buying a used Daewoo

Last week, John Mabior withdrew his life savings--all $200 of it--and handed it over to General Business Recoveries, a local collection agency.

Mabior says he paid the money because a representative of the agency threatened him by saying that if he didn't cough it up that day, his name would be turned over to a credit-reporting agency.

Mabior, a Sudanese "Lost Boy" living as a refugee in Tucson, is struggling to pay a debt from a car loan--at an interest rate of just less than 30 percent, according to the sales forms--for a Daewoo four-door sedan that quit running about 18 months after he bought it for more than $5,600 from Tucson Auto Sales, 3731 E. Grant Road.

Mabior is not what you'd call a savvy car shopper. He's only been in the United States for about four years; he's taking classes to earn his GED in Pima Community College's Adult Ed program. When he speaks, it can be a challenge to understand exactly what he's saying.

Mabior's life in the southern part of Sudan was torn asunder in 1987, when he was about 10 years old. Like tens of thousands of children in his generation, he was forced to flee his village to avoid death at the hands of marauding government soldiers who were slaughtering the civilian population.

Mabior joined with thousands of other children and walked every day for about five weeks until he arrived at an Ethiopian refugee camp, where he lived until 1992, when war in Ethiopia forced him to flee once again on foot.

Some were killed by crocodiles and lions; some drowned crossing the Gilo River; some were shot dead; and some simply sat down by the side of the road and died from starvation or thirst.

Only 10,000 would find relative safety, in Kenya. Mabior was one of the lucky ones. After five months of trekking back across Sudan, he would find a home in a grass hut at Kakuma, a United Nations refugee camp in Kenya. In 2004, he was finally able to leave Africa and resettle in Michigan.

But "there was a lot of snow," he says, so he came to Arizona, where some other Lost Boys have made a home. He enrolled at Pima Community College and landed a job at a factory where he puts scrap metal into a furnace; a long, jagged scar on his forearm and a smaller scar on his hand illustrate the hazards of the work.

To get to his job and to school, Mabior needed a car. He went to buy one from Josh Silverman at Tucson Auto Sales in March 2006.

Mabior bought a 2001 Daewoo four-door sedan from Silverman for about $5,645 after tax, title and license. Mabior could only put $800 down, but Silverman was willing to finance the remaining $4,845--at an interest rate of 29.99 percent. The total finance charge on the loan was more than $1,800, according to the sales form.

Silverman says that kind of interest rate is "last-resort financing" reserved for buyers who have no credit or bad credit. He believes Mabior understood what he was getting himself into with the loan.

"He certainly understood the original contract," Silverman says. "There are certainly some things he doesn't understand properly. There are all sorts of factors--repairs and things like that--that I'm sure he doesn't totally understand. The problem ended up being with a bad engine, and he had a mechanic do some work on it ... and he was probably taken advantage of there."

The Daewoo was frequently in the shop--Mabior estimates that repairs cost him at least $700--but he made his monthly payments of at least $250 on time.

After about a year and half, however, the Daewoo broke down for the last time. A mechanic estimated it would cost $2,000 to repair it.

So Mabior took the Daewoo back to Silverman and tried to trade it in for another car. Silverman said no deal, so Mabior left the Daewoo at the lot. (Silverman says it was probably sold at a salvage auction.) Mabior also stopped making payments on the loan.

He continued to have bad luck with cars after leaving the Daewoo at Tucson Auto Sales. He had his next car, an Oldsmobile sedan, for all of a week before it was totaled when another driver smashed into it while it was parked outside of his apartment. He purchased another Oldsmobile with insurance money, only to have that one stolen while he was in class. Police did recover his car, but it was damaged beyond repair.

But it's the Daewoo that's now causing Mabior trouble. In January, he got a call from General Business Recoveries, a Tucson collection agency. A GBR representative, Destiny Sanders, told Mabior he had to pay $2,500 to settle the debt.

"I talked to them, and they didn't want to listen to me at all," Mabior says. "They said I could pay, or they would put me on bad credit."

Margaret "Leftie" Vaughn, a longtime Peace Corps administrator who is now retired in Tucson, tried to help Mabior negotiate with both Silverman and Sanders, to little avail. She says she can't even get a straight answer about why Mabior owes $2,500, when by her calculations, he had paid all but $1,800 in interest when he returned the car and stopped making payments.

Silverman said earlier this week that he had misplaced Mabior's file and couldn't discuss how much Mabior owed the car company.

Mabior has continued to meet with Sanders to try to work out a payment plan. Vaughn says that Sanders offered to lower the amount to $1,600 if he paid it off within the next three months, but Mabior doesn't have enough money.

Mabior says that last week, Sanders threatened to turn him over to a credit bureau if he didn't pay her something that day. He went to the bank, withdrew the $200 he had saved up and turned it over to her.

Although the Weekly contacted GBR on Friday, March 7, to discuss Mabior's account, GBR general manager Bina Oulton said in a letter to the Weekly on Tuesday, March 11, that she was not given enough time to properly prepare for a discussion before this story's Tuesday deadline.

Vaughn says she was appalled by the cold-hearted response she's seen from both Silverman and Sanders.

"I object to people who walk away from debt," Vaughn says. "You don't do that. But he made every effort with them to pay off what he owed, and they do not take into account that he is a new English speaker, that he has no high school education, that none of his family is here, that he is miles away from home and adjusting to life in the U.S. He has done remarkably well; he has never defaulted on a rent payment; he found a job. He is now working on his GED. Why can't anyone give a break to someone who has done everything right and is trying so hard to be a good citizen?"

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