Scott Tucker And Timothy Muir Convicted At Trial For $3.5 Billion Unlawful Internet Payday Lending Enterprise
Defendants Exploited Over 4.5 Million Financially Struggling Americans Through Unlawful Scheme to Evade State Usury Laws
Joon H. Kim, the Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today that SCOTT TUCKER and TIMOTHY MUIR were convicted after a five-week jury trial on all fourteen counts against them, for operating a nationwide internet payday lending enterprise that systematically evaded state laws in order to charge illegal interest rates as high as 1000% on loans.
Acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim stated: “As a unanimous jury found today, Scott Tucker and Timothy Muir targeted and exploited millions of struggling, everyday Americans by charging them illegally high interest rates on payday loans, as much as 700 percent. Tucker and Muir sought to get away with their crimes by claiming that this $3.5 billion business was actually owned and operated by Native American tribes. But that was a lie. The jury saw through Tucker and Muir’s lies and saw their business for what it was – an illegal and predatory scheme to take callous advantage of vulnerable workers living from paycheck to paycheck.”
According to the allegations contained in the Superseding Indictment, and evidence presented at trial:
The Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organizations (“RICO”) Crimes
From at least 1997 until 2013, TUCKER engaged in the business of making small, short-term, high-interest, unsecured loans, commonly referred to as “payday loans,” through the Internet. TUCKER’s lending enterprise, which had up to 1,500 employees based in Overland Park, Kansas, did business as Ameriloan, f/k/a Cash Advance; OneClickCash, f/k/a Preferred Cash Loans; United Cash Loans; US FastCash; 500 FastCash; Advantage Cash Services; and Star Cash Processing (the “Tucker Payday Lenders”). TUCKER, working with MUIR, the general counsel for TUCKER’s payday lending businesses since 2006, routinely charged interest rates of 600% or 700%, and sometimes higher than 1,000%. These loans were issued to more than 4.5 million working people in all fifty states, including more than 250,000 people in New York, many of whom were struggling to pay basic living expenses. Many of these loans were issued in states, including New York, with laws that expressly forbid lending at the exorbitant interest rates TUCKER charged. Evidence at trial established that TUCKER and MUIR were fully aware of the illegal nature of the loans charged and in fact prepared scripts to be used by call center employees to deal with complaints by customers that their loans were illegal.
Fraudulent Loan Disclosures
The Truth-in-Lending Act (“TILA”) is a federal statute intended to ensure that credit terms are disclosed to consumers in a clear and meaningful way, both to protect customers against inaccurate and unfair credit practices, and to enable them to compare credit terms readily and knowledgeably. Among other things, TILA and its implementing regulations require lenders, including payday lenders like the Tucker Payday Lenders, to accurately, clearly, and conspicuously disclose, before any credit is extended, the finance charge, the annual percentage rate, and the total of payments that reflect the legal obligation between the parties to the loan.
The Tucker Payday Lenders purported to inform prospective borrowers, in clear and simple terms, as required by TILA, of the cost of the loan (the “TILA Box”). For example, for a loan of $500, the TILA Box provided that the “finance charge – meaning the “dollar amount the credit will cost you” – would be $150, and that the “total of payments” would be $650. Thus, in substance, the TILA Box stated that a $500 loan to the customer would cost $650 to repay. While the amounts set forth in the Tucker Payday Lenders’ TILA Box varied according to the terms of particular customers’ loans, they reflected, in substance, that the borrower would pay $30 in interest for every $100 borrowed.
In fact, through at least 2012, TUCKER and MUIR structured the repayment schedule of the loans such that, on the borrower’s payday, the Tucker Payday Lenders automatically withdrew the entire interest payment due on the loan, but left the principal balance untouched so that, on the borrower’s next payday, the Tucker Payday Lenders could again automatically withdraw an amount equaling the entire interest payment due (and already paid) on the loan. With TUCKER and MUIR’s approval, the Tucker Payday Lenders proceeded automatically to withdraw such “finance charges” payday after payday (typically every two weeks), applying none of the money toward repayment of principal, until at least the fifth payday, when they began to withdraw an additional $50 per payday to apply to the principal balance of the loan. Even then, the Tucker Payday Lenders continued to assess and automatically withdraw the entire interest payment calculated on the remaining principal balance until the entire principal amount was repaid. Accordingly, as TUCKER and MUIR well knew, the Tucker Payday Lenders’ TILA box materially understated the amount the loan would cost, including the total of payments that would be taken from the borrower’s bank account. Specifically, for a customer who borrowed $500, contrary to the TILA Box disclosure stating that the total payment by the borrower would be $650, in fact, and as TUCKER and MUIR well knew, the finance charge was $1,425, for a total payment of $1,925 by the borrower.
The Sham Tribal Ownership of the Business
In response to complaints that the Tucker Payday Lenders were extending abusive loans in violation of their usury laws, several states began to investigate the Tucker Payday Lenders. To thwart these state actions, TUCKER devised a scheme to claim that his lending businesses were protected by sovereign immunity, a legal doctrine that, among other things, generally prevents states from enforcing their laws against Native American tribes. Beginning in 2003, TUCKER entered into agreements with several Native American tribes (the “Tribes”), including the Santee Sioux Tribe of Nebraska, the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma, and the Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma. The purpose of these agreements was to cause the Tribes to claim they owned and operated parts of TUCKER’s payday lending enterprise, so that when states sought to enforce laws prohibiting TUCKER’s loans, TUCKER’s lending businesses would claim to be protected by sovereign immunity. In return, the Tribes received payments from TUCKER, typically one percent of the revenues from the portion of TUCKER’s payday lending business that the Tribes purported to own.
In order to create the illusion that the Tribes owned and controlled TUCKER’s payday lending business, TUCKER and MUIR engaged in a series of lies and deceptions. Among other things:
- MUIR and other counsel for TUCKER prepared false factual declarations from tribal representatives that were submitted to state courts, falsely claiming, among other things, that tribal corporations substantively owned, controlled, and managed the portions of TUCKER’s business targeted by state enforcement actions.
- TUCKER opened bank accounts to operate and receive the profits of the payday lending enterprise, which were nominally held by tribally owned corporations, but which were, in fact, owned and controlled by TUCKER. TUCKER received over $380 million from these accounts on lavish personal expenses, some of which was spent on a fleet of Ferraris and Porsches, the expenses of a professional auto racing team, a private jet, a luxury home in Aspen, Colorado, and his personal taxes.
- Employees of TUCKER making payday loans over the phone told borrowers, using scripts directed and approved by TUCKER and MUIR, that they were operating in Oklahoma and Nebraska, where the Tribes were located, when in fact they were operating at TUCKER’s corporate headquarters in Kansas in order to deceive borrowers into believing that they were dealing with Native American tribes.
These deceptions succeeded for a time, and several state courts dismissed enforcement actions against TUCKER’s payday lending businesses based on claims that they were protected by sovereign immunity. In reality, the Tribes neither owned nor operated any part of TUCKER’s payday lending business. The Tribes made no payment to TUCKER to acquire the portions of the business they purported to own. TUCKER continued to operate his lending business from a corporate headquarters in Kansas, and TUCKER continued to reap the profits of the payday lending businesses, which generated over $3.5 billion in revenue from just 2008 to June 2013 – in substantial part by charging struggling borrowers high interest rates expressly forbidden by state laws.
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TUCKER, 55, and MUIR, 46, were convicted in all 14 counts in the Indictment, including one count of conspiring to commit racketeering through the collection of unlawful debt, three counts of participating in a racketeering enterprise through the collection of unlawful debt, one count of conspiring to commit wire fraud, one count of wire fraud, one count of conspiring to commit money laundering, two counts of money laundering, and five counts of violating TILA.
Mr. Kim praised the outstanding investigative work of the St. Louis Field Office of the IRS-CI. Mr. Kim also thanked the Criminal Investigators at the United States Attorney’s Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Federal Trade Commission for their assistance with the case.
If you believe you were a victim of this crime, including a victim entitled to restitution, and you wish to provide information to law enforcement and/or receive notice of future developments in the case or additional information, please contact the Victim/Witness Unit at the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, at (866) 874-8900. For additional information, go to:
The prosecution is being handled by the Office’s Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Niketh Velamoor, Hagan Scotten, and Sagar Ravi are in charge of the prosecution.