Race car driver Scott Tucker found guilty in U.S. payday lending case

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S. jury on Friday convicted a race car driver who is also a Kansas businessman of crimes stemming from his online payday lending business, which prosecutors said made more $2 billion as it exploited millions of cash-strapped consumers.

Scott Tucker exits the Manhattan Federal Court in New York February 23, 2016. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Scott Tucker was convicted on all 14 counts against him, including collecting unlawful debts in violation of the federal Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and violating the Truth in Lending Act.

Prosecutors said that Tucker’s business charged interest rates as high as 700 percent, and evaded legal liability through sham relationships with Native American tribes.

Timothy Muir, a lawyer who prosecutors said worked with Tucker’s Overland Park, Kansas-based company, AMG Services Inc, was convicted Friday of the same counts. The verdict came after a five-week trial for the two men before U.S. District Judge Kevin Castel in Manhattan.

Tucker’s lawyer, Lee Ginsberg, said the verdict was “very disappointing” and that he would appeal. Muir’s lawyer, Thomas Bath, declined to comment.

The two men were indicted in February 2016 amid efforts by the federal government to crack down on abuses by payday lending companies.

Such companies say they help struggling consumers by offering small loans that borrowers agree to repay in a short time, often from their next paycheck. Critics say they saddle borrowers with large debt loads resulting from high interest rates and fees. Some states have banned payday lending.

Prosecutors claimed that from 1997 to 2013, Tucker exploited 4.5 million people through payday lenders he owned and operated under names including Ameriloan and One Click Cash.

Those lenders shared employees, computer systems and costs with AMG, which employed 600 people, according to prosecutors.

Prosecutors said that from 2003 to 2012, the businesses generated more than $2 billion in revenue, largely through high interest rates.

After several states brought lawsuits over the lending, prosecutors said, Tucker entered into sham relationships with Native American tribes, including the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma. AMG claimed it was owned by the Miami tribe, and thus shielded from lawsuits by tribal sovereign immunity.

Two corporations controlled by the Miami Tribe agreed to forfeit $48 million to avoid prosecution.

Tucker, who competes on U.S. and European racing circuits, was previously convicted of making a false statement to a bank and using the mail for a scheme to defraud. He was sentenced in 1991 to a year in a federal prison.

Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York