It took three years to settle the suit that Cooper's office brought against SmartBuy, and when they did, SmartBuy relocated to California to file bankruptcy and escape the Tennessee judgment. Cooper's office was able to track them down in California, but it made the process that much longer and more difficult.
Cooper also told the story of a soldier who had been killed in Iraq whose family had to endure months of illegal harassment from a debt collector.
Rockefeller was torn between the effectiveness of aggressive but time-consuming and expensive suits, like Cooper's, and providing as much education for service members as possible, saying that both were necessary.
"You work with the Guard, you talk with the folks, and they hear you, they believe you, but does it prepare them for these creeps that are going to sell to them?" Rockefeller asked. "I keep coming back to what you said: They're kids, 22, 25 years old ... as they're serving us, they're getting shafted under our watch in this country."
Deanna Nelson, an assistant attorney general in New York, described a company that would buy computers at Walmart or Costco and then remarket them and sell them to service members at Fort Drum. They would advertise them at reasonable prices -- $60 per pay period -- but with fine print so that consumers ended up paying up to $3,000 for a $600 computer.
Rockefeller indicated that he would like to use his committee's subpoena power to force executives from companies like SmartBuy to testify before his committee.
"I'm trying to find some way to get them to be seen as the scumbags that I think they are," he said. "It's a terrible thing happening to our men and women in service and I regret it greatly."
Reach David Gutman at david.gut...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5119.