Five attorneys and a doctor are among 38 people from San Diego and Imperial counties who were sued Wednesday by the U.S. attorney's office for failure to repay their student loans.
Also listed as delinquent on their loan repayments were a pharmacist, four teachers and five federal employees.
U.S. Atty. Peter K. Nunez said the total owed by the debtors is $198,892.06 plus interest. The amounts owed range from a low of $719 to a high of $16,354.23 allegedly owed by attorney Joel R. Wohlfeil of San Diego. Linda J. Gregory of San Diego, identified as an attorney by Nunez, allegedly owes $11,578.35.
Wohlfeil said in a telephone interview that he obtained a federally insured student loan that he has been repaying "off and on."
Nunez told reporters that the people sued Wednesday had not been notified by federal officials before their names were released to the press. And Wohlfeil expressed surprise at the lawsuit.
"This is the first word I've received about it. I'm going to have to wait to see if any further action is taken," Wohlfeil said.
Nunez said the suits represent a continuing crackdown on people who refuse to pay off the low-interest loans. Government lawyers do not take the debtors to court until the U.S. Department of Education exhausts all administrative attempts to collect the loans.
"The only way this message (to pay off the loans) is going to get through is if they're sued," Nunez said.
According to figures released by the Department of Education, about 620,000 student loans have gone into default nationwide. Nunez said the 38 suits filed Wednesday represent only "the tip of the iceberg" in San Diego and Imperial counties, where his office has jurisdiction.
Federal attorneys in San Diego have sued 137 people to date for defaulted loans that total $409,319. In the last two years, the suits have resulted in the collection of $11,000, Nunez said.
ACLU attorney Thomas F. Homann of San Diego was among the attorneys sued Wednesday. Federal officials allege that Homann owes $2,258.88. La Jolla attorney Thomas V. Grimes was sued for $7,289.28, and San Diego attorney Burton R. Berman was sued for $1,183.12.
Grimes could not be reached for comment. A receptionist at Homann's office said he was home sick, while a spokesman at Berman's office said Berman did not want to comment.
Clemmie L. Williams of Carlsbad, who was identified as a doctor by Nunez's office, allegedly owes $6,752.05.