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Debt collectors to America’s rescue

By Dan Mitchell, contributor

FORTUNE — The all-caps headline on a press release issued Monday signals the delicious insanity that’s to come further down:: “WELCOME RELIEF TO THE NATION’S 14 MILLION UNEMPLOYED,” it blares. “PROMINENT DEBT COLLECTION AGENCY, CFS II, ANNOUNCES PLANS TO EXPAND NATIONWIDE — WILL ADD 10,000 NEW JOBS IN THE NEXT THREE YEARS.”

It’s hard to know what’s more astonishing: the fact that a debt collector is trumpeting itself as a savior of the economy, or the improbable claim that 14 million unemployed people will find “welcome relief” in the creation of 10,000 jobs over three years.

In the opening lines of the press release, we learn that CFS II is headed by “industry icon, tireless crusader and CEO Bill Bartmann.” Further down, he’s referred to as “a triple hyphenate: entrepreneur-political-activist-consumer advocate.”

The company will expand its operations from Oklahoma to five states, according to the release. “Out of the eight states being considered, including Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Florida, Texas, Arizona, Nevada and Pennsylvania, five will be chosen.” No doubt, top governmental leaders in those states have spent the past day or so huddled in meetings, trying to come up with some kind of irresistible incentive plan to entice CFS II to choose them.

But given the company’s obviously pure, benevolent motives, it probably will base its decision solely on where it can be the most help. The expansion, the release says, “marks one company’s important step to help defeat the jobs crisis.” Salaries will range from $35,000 for “a customer service representative” to $120,000 for “an executive.”

Bartmann has a long and storied history. His former company Commercial Financial Services, which presumably we can now call “CFS I,” was at one point the country’s biggest collector of credit-card debt. Bartmann was a paper billionaire, turning down offers from Goldman Sachs and others. That was before the company, as Fortune reported in 1999, “imploded spectacularly,” going bankrupt amid allegations of fraud. A company employee was convicted, and Bartmann was indicted, though he won at trial and a bankruptcy trustee eventually ruled that the company itself did no wrong in the case.

Bartmann’s shtick is saying that debt collection should be humane, and his company refers to debtors as “customers.” In the press release, he’s quoted as saying that “there are great opportunities to create value by treating consumers with respect.”