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Federal Trade Commission seeks to shut down tribes' online payday businesses

Online payday lending operations owned by two Oklahoma Indian tribes deceived and bullied customers, a federal complaint filed Monday states. In earlier cases against some of the same firms, the tribes have successfully argued that they are exempt from government oversight.
by Don Mecoy Published: April 3, 2012

The Federal Trade Commission is seeking to shut down an online payday lending operation that involves two Oklahoma Indian tribes after consumers filed more than 7,500 complaints to authorities in recent years.

The commission filed a complaint Monday in U.S. District Court in Nevada against high-fee, short-term lending firms operated by the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma and the Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma. The complaint names several individuals as controlling the operation, including race car driver Scott Tucker.

The FTC claims the payday lending companies “piled on undisclosed and inflated fees, and collected on loans illegally by threatening borrowers with arrest and lawsuits.” The case raises questions about the tribes' ability to avoid government oversight of their businesses by claiming their sovereign rights.

The complaint charges that a web of defendants, including the Miami Tribe's AMG Services Inc., three other Internet-based lending companies, seven related companies and six individuals violated federal law by deceiving payday loan customers. The agency seeks an injunction to stop the companies from operating while authorities pursue the case.

A message left for Miami Nation Chief Thomas Gamble with Miami Nation Enterprises was not returned Monday. Modoc tribal officials did not respond to a message seeking comment on the complaint. Attempts to contact Tucker through his racing company's website were unsuccessful.

Payday loans are small-dollar, short-term unsecured loans that borrowers promise to repay out of their next paycheck or regular income payment. They typically carry extremely high interest rates, but the short-term nature of the loan is designed to limit the borrower's costs.

Commission's claims

The commission's filing claims the lending companies would make repeated small withdrawals from customers' accounts, with each payment incurring a fee. In one example cited, a customer was charged $675 in fees to pay off a $300 loan.

The companies also threatened customers with lawsuits or arrest to obtain payments, according to the filing.

According to documents filed with the court, Tucker and his co-defendant and brother, Blaine Tucker, transferred more than $40 million dollars collected from consumers by the payday lending companies to another company Scott Tucker controls, Level 5 Motor Sports, for “sponsorship” fees that benefit Scott Tucker's automobile racing, the commission said.

The operation has claimed in state legal proceedings that its affiliation with Indian tribes makes it immune from legal action. Recently, the Miami Tribe claimed victory in a Colorado case when the court affirmed its immunity after authorities there sued the tribe for teaming with Tucker to establish an online lending agency.

FTC filing

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by Don Mecoy
Business Editor
Business Editor Don Mecoy has covered business news for more than a decade after earlier working on The Oklahoman's city, state and metro news desks, including a stint as city editor. He has won state and regional journalism awards for business,...
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