The vicious debt trap of payday loans
Johnson County businessman Joel Jerome Tucker — already facing a $4 million judgment from the Federal Trade Commission — has been indicted on 15 felony counts tied to his payday loan industry activities.
The indictment also calls for Tucker to forfeit $7.3 million of ill-gotten gains. A federal grand jury in Kansas City indicted Tucker on June 5. The document was made public Friday in U.S. District Court in Kansas City.
Tucker did not make payday loans. Instead, he sold leads to payday lenders.
In 18 pages, the indictment described two schemes in which Tucker allegedly created portfolios of fake payday loans to sell to bill collectors. The collectors hounded consumers named in the fake loans so much that some paid them off.
As part of the other scheme, two of Tucker's portfolios held fake loans to 14,403 consumers already in bankruptcy, the indictment said. He provided buyers not only the names and loan information but also the district in which the bankruptcy was filed and the name of the bankruptcy trustee in the case.
Buyers then filed claims in the bankruptcy cases, expecting at least partial payment when the bankruptcy proceeding was complete.
Tucker's scheme unraveled, according to the indictment, when bankruptcy trustees "throughout the country" began to challenge one lender's payday loans and a judge investigated.
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Marvin Isgur in Houston had ordered Tucker to appear in his court.
The indictment accuses Tucker of repeatedly lying to the judge, filing a false declaration in his court, destroying a computer against orders to preserve information and even lying while being videotaped by a bankruptcy trustee.
At one point, Isgur ordered Tucker to be held in custody after he gave "incredible" evidence about the loans.
The judge then ordered Tucker to produce proof of the loans, but Tucker said he had to retrieve it from a computer in his Kansas City offices.
Released to get the information, Tucker was videotaped while he pulled files off his computer. The lie on camera was that he retrieved all of the information, including one key file in the case, though he did not, according to the indictment.
The trip to Kansas City had been a ruse, too.
"Tucker's data was on a virtual server, which he could have retrieved from anywhere, including Houston," the indictment said.
Joel Tucker is the brother of Scott Tucker, a former race car driver who has been sentenced to more than 16 years in prison for his conviction on charges from his illegal $2 billion payday loan operation.
Kansas City's payday lending industry has produced the bankruptcy of a Kansas City company that financed payday lenders, indictments against two American Indian tribes, a $613 million penalty against U.S. Bank, imprisonment of another Kansas City payday lender, a controversial decision by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and an episode on Netflix's "Dirty Money" series.
Joel Tucker faces 12 counts of interstate transportation of stolen money, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines; two counts of bankruptcy fraud, punishable by up to five years in prison and $250,000 in fines; and one count of falsification of records in bankruptcy, punishable by up to 20 years in prison and $250,000 in fines.