Washington state is heading south in its quest to recover the largest ethics fine in state history. As KUOW reported this spring, a former Evergreen State College professor has evaded efforts to collect the $120,000 fine against him.
But the state hasn't given up just because Jorge Gilbert has moved to South America.
Gilbert was hit with the six-figure fine last year, two years after auditors found he had repeatedly ripped off students on study abroad trips to his native Chile. For more than a decade, Gilbert steered student fees to his own family members.
If the wheels of justice had turned faster, the state could have seized Gilbert's condo in Olympia. But he sold the condo for $130,000 in April. Gilbert apparently sold his condo from afar, but he did leave a trail. He had the deed of sale notarized in Santiago, Chile.
At the end of August, the state attorney general's office put out a request for a collection agency to reel in its money – all the way from Chile. Only one agency put in a bid for the work. So, on Friday, the state re-advertised the job.
Global Economy, Global Debt Collection
But is it even possible for Washington to recover money on another continent, where our laws don't apply?
Raoul Horacio Manfredi manages a collection agency in Chile called TransWorld Services. He says his agency routinely collects debts in Chile owed to creditors in other countries. In a global economy, it turns out, you can't just flee your debts by moving to another hemisphere.
"Here in Chile, it's possible, not easy, but it's possible to collect money from the other country to Chile," Manfredi says. "But first of all, you need to found the guy."
KUOW has found the guy. Jorge Gilbert has been working for Universidad ARCIS in Santiago. He edits a sociology journal there. He has also been producing videos for the university's sociology department.
Gilbert did not reply to emails sent to his university address.
Horacio Manfredi says Washington state can go to a Chilean court to recover the $120,000 fine. If the Chilean court issued a court order against Gilbert, his credit rating would be toast if he didn't pay.
"Here in Chile, when you have problems with the law, with [not paying] the bills, the banks close the door immediately," says Manfredi.
Gilbert's Chilean assets would also be at risk.
"If the debtor doesn't pay," Manfredi says, "the court [can] go to the assets and sell the assets, take the money this way."
Records obtained by KUOW show Jorge Gilbert's Chilean assets include an apartment he owns in a leafy, upper-middle-class neighborhood of Santiago. The apartment's been assessed at 52 million Chilean pesos. That's about $110,000, or nearly the full amount of his ethics fine.
Chilean collection agencies typically keep about one–fourth of the total debt in exchange for their services, according to Manfredi.