"The debt collector has it all wrong," he told me.
Koegel cited Section 809 of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which states that if a consumer disputes a debt, "the debt collector shall cease collection of the debt, or any disputed portion thereof, until the debt collector obtains verification of the debt."
The upshot of the law is clear, he said: "It puts the onus on the collector to prove that it's a legitimate debt."
In any case, Koegel added, a debt collector can't just look at its database and insist that the debt must be real.
"The collector, at a minimum, should look at more of the underlying documentation or go back to the original creditor if necessary," he said.
MCM apparently never did that. It stuck to its guns, insisting that Leza must owe some money. It even turned the screws by reporting him to the main credit reporting companies.
Leza learned about this in April after applying for a personal loan. His application was rejected. The reason: Leza's credit files showed that debt-collection proceedings were underway.
I contacted MCM to ask about the situation. A spokeswoman for the company, Julie Reynolds, said by email that the company was prevented by federal law from discussing a specific case.
So I asked instead about the broader question of who's responsible, the consumer or the collector, for verifying the legitimacy of a debt.
"Midland contacts consumers when its records indicate that the consumer owes the underlying debt," Reynolds replied. "When a consumer disputes a debt, we respond by investigating, and that process often requires some level of cooperation from the consumer."
I take that to mean MCM believes the consumer bears at least as much responsibility as the collector for resolving debt issues.
If so, the company needs to think again.
"The responsibility lies primarily with the collector," said the FTC's Koegel. "That's how we interpret the law."
He said consumers in Leza's situation should first look to protecting their credit score. Contact the main credit reporting companies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — and work with them to clear up any discrepancies.
Koegel also advised lodging a complaint with the FTC. Of roughly 125,000 complaints made last year about debt collectors, he said, almost 10,000 involved collectors failing to verify a loan as per federal law.
Finally, Koegel suggested writing a letter to the collector that cites Section 809 of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
"When a consumer makes clear that he understands his legal rights, that never hurts," Koegel said.
Leza is already taking action. He's contacted the credit reporting companies and said they've been helpful in removing the collection notice from his files. But he's not sure how to make MCM go away.
In May, the company offered to settle his account for $224.64. That offer was good until mid-June.
Paul Mankin, a Beverly Hills lawyer specializing in debt issues, said a collector will often go away after receiving a letter from the consumer disputing the obligation and demanding that all phone calls stop. Leza already has sent such a letter to MCM.
If that doesn't work, Mankin said, the consumer may want to hire an attorney. The federal debt collection law holds the collector liable for any legal costs if a debt is found to be bogus, he said.
Based on what the FTC says, it appears that MCM, not Leza, is the one with the burden of proof here. He should stand his ground until the company can clearly demonstrate that he owes money.
Despite what some debt collectors may want people to think, the law is on the consumers' side.
David Lazarus' column runs Tuesdays and Fridays. He also can be seen daily on KTLA-TV Channel 5 and followed on Twitter @Davidlaz. Send your tips or feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.