If the Guinness Book of World Records ever adds a category on credit abuse, Tampa's chief bankruptcy judge has a contender _ the jobless woman who got seven American Express cards and took a whirlwind tour of Europe. Dixie Lee Dorsey of Winter Haven "certainly would have a fighting chance to get the first prize, considering what happened in this instance," Judge Alexander Paskay said in an order released Friday.
Paskay ruled that Dorsey, 37, is responsible for $24,148 in American Express charges even though she sought protection from creditors in bankruptcy court. Dorsey, whose only steady income was $480 a month from Social Security, "was fully aware she could never meet those obligations even if she lived to be 100 years old," Paskay said.
Although he ruled in American Express' favor, the judge took a few swipes at the company, too.
"It is absolutely appalling to this court and it is difficult, if not impossible, to comprehend how a responsible business like American Express could grant seven cards to a widow with two minor children who had no gainful employment since 1978.
. Card issuers, including American Express, should not be surprised that from time to time individuals who are bombarded with unsolicited credit cards decide that so long as they have the cards, they can use them and go on a charging spree."
Dorsey and Larry Foyle, an attorney
for American Express Travel Related Services, declined to comment Friday. Dorsey told a reporter last summer that she had no way of paying the company.
"They can get a judgment against me, but what good does it do _ I have nothing," she said at the time.
At a hearing this month, Dorsey admitted running up 72 charges on her American Express cards during a two-month European jaunt that included stops in nine countries. She said she expected her boyfriend to pay the bills because he had supported her for the past several years.
"Her reliance on the continuing generosity of her mysterious boyfriend" _ who has since disappeared, along with many of her purchases _ "was unrealistic and unjustified to say the least," Paskay wrote in his order.
After taking a second, shorter trip to the North, "and, of course, incurring some additional charges by again using her American Express cards," Dorsey returned to Florida and declared personal bankruptcy in January, listing total debts of $193,577, the judge noted. American Express, saying at least two of its cards were obtained under pretexts, went to court in an attempt to collect payment for thousands of dollars in "luxury goods and services."
As he has in the past, the judge again commented on Dorsey's purchase of $850 worth of perfume from a Paris boutique _ and speculated that the purchase intrigued American Express, too.
"In an attempt to explain this purchase she explained that she always liked to smell good," the judge said. "The purchase of this item, no doubt, triggered a not-too-well-smelling sour note in the not-very sensitive nostrils of the American Express credit card department when it received notice of the filing of the Chapter 7 petition by this debtor."