Race car driver Tucker gets more than 16 years for lending scheme

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Kansas businessman and race car driver was sentenced to 16 years and 8 months in prison on Friday for crimes related to his online payday lending business, which prosecutors said made more than $3.5 billion as it exploited millions of cash-strapped consumers.

FILE PHOTO: Scott Tucker exits the Manhattan Federal Court in New York, NY, U.S., February 23, 2016. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

Scott Tucker, 55, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Kevin Castel in Manhattan. He was found guilty by a jury in October of violating federal truth in lending and racketeering laws.

Tucker did not make a statement at his sentencing, referring instead to a letter he submitted to the court in December. In that letter, Tucker said he was “remorseful” for “the misperception that I do not recognize my responsibility to live as a good and fair business man, employer, and American citizen.”

Castel said the letter showed Tucker had not accepted that his conduct was criminal.

“The notion that Mr. Tucker is just an honest businessman doesn’t fly with me,” he said.

Tucker’s lawyer, Lee Ginsburg, said he would appeal.

Castel also sentenced Timothy Muir, 46, a lawyer who worked with Tucker and was convicted of the same charges in October, to seven years in prison. Muir’s lawyer, Thomas Bath, said he would appeal as well.

Tucker and Muir 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 consumers by offering small loans that are to be repaid in a short time, often from the person’s next paycheck, but critics say they exploit borrowers through high interest rates and fees.

Prosecutors said Tucker’s Kansas-based business, which operated under names including Ameriloan and OneClickCash, routinely charged interest rates as high as 700 percent, exploiting more than 4 million people from 1997 to 2013.

After several states brought lawsuits over the lending, prosecutors said, Tucker entered into sham relationships with Native American tribes. By claiming his companies were owned by tribes, prosecutors said, Tucker was able to shield the companies from lawsuits using tribal sovereign immunity.

Tucker, who has competed on U.S. and European racing circuits, was previously convicted of making a false statement to obtain a bank loan and of running a fraudulent financial services business. He was sentenced in 1991 to a year in a federal prison for the latter crime.

Tucker was also charged in Kansas last month with filing a false tax return. That case remains pending.

Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Leslie Adler