Dennis Gates prepares to perform a foreclosure sale at the Jackson County Court House Tuesday morning. - Jamie Lusch

At Your Service

Dennis Gates has stared down the barrel of a gun three times. He's been shot at. And he's been kissed by a stranger.

The 61-year-old Central Point business owner makes a living out of serving summonses for divorces, child custody and small claims. For all the drama, Gates takes his job in stride.

"Dramatic is when you go to the door and they pull a gun on you," he said.

He's been sued. He's dodged items hurled at him. His car has been damaged. Once, he was trapped inside a property when a homeowner closed the electric gates on him.

A fairly big guy and an ex-cop as well as a veteran, Gates crisscrosses the county in a Toyota Prius, serving legal complaints, collections and child custody papers.

"You wouldn't believe the amount of miles I put on it," he said.

Occasionally someone is happy to see him. He recalls one surprise encounter at the coast where he delivered divorce papers. "One guy grabbed me and kissed me, he was so excited," said Gates. "I was fighting to get away from that one."

Others react to Gates' presence with violence.

About five years ago, he pulled off Butte Falls Road and drove up a long driveway lined with blackberry bushes taller than his car. He walked up to a house and served papers to a man. As he walked back, the man decided to teach Gates a lesson.

"I heard the ring of a shot and it went over my head and went into the bushes," he said.

Gates said he's learned not to bother calling the police.

"There were no witnesses," he said. "There were no damages. It was his word against my word."

Jim Bautista, owner of Precision Credit LLC of Central Point, said Gates performs a valuable service for his company by serving the small claims actions.

"He makes that extra effort to get them served," he said. "He's willing to go the extra mile for us."

Bautista said his company tries to work with people to arrange a payment plan, and he will occasionally receive a flower or card from people who were happy they finally got a handle on their debts.

"Unfortunately, if we don't get people to work with us or don't arrange a payment plan, we have to go to small claims court," he said.

Bautista said it's important that people pay their bills. When they don't, the price of goods and services rises for everyone because the lost revenues are eventually passed on to other consumers.

"It's a field where people love to hate us," he said. "It's an important service that he provides."

Gates started his career as a process server in California in 1984 when another server asked him to deliver some papers to a farm.

He remembers saying to himself that he'd better read over the case before he went out to the property.

Gates discovered the farmer had hired an illegal alien to herd sheep and one day the two of them had started drinking. The illegal alien asked if he could get paid and the farmer got angry and shot him twice. The wounded man crawled a mile before getting help.

"At that point, I didn't think it was a good idea to jump over fences to see somebody like that," Gates said.

He learned the farmer went to a local bakery every Friday to buy his mother a loaf of bread. "I came up behind him and tapped him on the shoulder and gave him his papers," he said.

Gates said he receives criticism from some people, but he said ultimately the blame falls on those who don't pay their bills or don't make an attempt to work out an arrangement.

"If they'd taken care of business, we wouldn't have been there," he said.

Gates began working for Cleveland in 1993 when it still did private investigations. He took over the business, which he runs with his wife, Linda, three years ago when it was in the midst of a bankruptcy.

The downturn in the housing industry has been good news for his business, which also handles foreclosures.

"When I took it over, I had no idea this foreclosure market would have taken off," he said.

He used to do one or two foreclosures a month, but now does more than 100. "I do them just about every day," he said.

At 10 a.m., 11 a.m. or 1 p.m., Gates stands on the steps of the Jackson County Courthouse reciting a script that announces the minimum bid for houses that are in foreclosure. Sometimes he's at the justice center, other times he's at the Rogue River City Hall.

Many times he recites the words to himself because no potential buyers show up.

Gates said the loans that were taken out on these properties often are for more than the properties are worth, so nobody's interested in buying them.

Every once in a while a foreclosure creates a buzz.

"I've had times when 20 people were bidding on a piece of property," he said.

Gates has three associates who work for him in Josephine County who do the same thing.

He usually charges $20 to $35 to serve papers or perform the foreclosures. In some cases, he charges mileage as well.

Gates didn't want to reveal his salary, but said he pays more in taxes now than he used to earn annually.

He takes his work seriously, even when it's difficult to get close to someone to serve the papers. A Talent man convicted of racketeering used every strategem to avoid contact with Gates.

"I tracked him for four years," he said. "He refused to come to the door. I finally served him six months ago."

Share This Story