Patriarch of Payday Loans Indicted Amid Usury Crackdown

  • Hallinan, others conspired to defraud 1,400 people, U.S. says
  • Companies allegedly charged rates exceeding 700 percent

Charlie Hallinan, who pioneered the tactics payday lenders have used for years to stymie state regulators, was indicted Thursday on federal conspiracy and fraud charges.

Hallinan, 75, allegedly participated in a conspiracy that violated usury laws of Pennsylvania and other states and generated more than $688 million in revenue from 2008 to 2013, Philadelphia U.S. Attorney Zane Memeger said. He’s charged with conspiracy to violate racketeering laws, mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering and international money laundering.

Hallinan is at least the fifth payday lender to face charges since 2014 as prosecutors target those who’ve used loopholes to operate in states that outlawed the costly loans.

He was among the first to start offering payday loans over the phone in the 1990s using tactics, dubbed “rent-a-bank” and “rent-a-tribe”, to get around state laws. The industry has since migrated to the Internet.

Mafia Law

Payday lenders offer cash-strapped workers advances of a few hundred dollars, to be repaid on the next payday, charging interest rates that often top 700 percent annualized. While storefront lenders are common in states where they’re legal, about a dozen states have tried to ban them. 

With state regulators unable to stop the elusive online lenders, federal prosecutors are turning to a racketeering law created to prosecute the Mafia. The law, enacted in 1970, gives prosecutors more time to go after wrongdoers and sets stiffer penalties.

Hallinan allegedly evaded state laws by partnering with banks and American Indian tribes, who served as lender fronts for a fee. His companies would run the business and earn the bulk of profits, according to court documents.

In the indictment unsealed Thursday, Hallinan and co-defendant Wheeler Neff, a 67-year-old lawyer from Wilmington, Delaware, are accused of paying at least $10,000 a month to three Indian tribes in exchange for their agreement to claim ownership of Hallinan’s companies and assert that “sovereign immunity,” shielded their conduct from state laws.

Others Charged

Randall Ginger, 66, a Canadian citizen who claimed to be a “hereditary chief” of one of the tribes, was also charged with mail fraud, wire fraud and international money laundering.

Adrian Rubin, one of Hallinan’s former business partners, was charged in June with racketeering conspiracy. He pleaded guilty and has yet to be sentenced. Scott Tucker, another former partner of Hallinan’s, was arrested on Feb. 10 in New York, also on racketeering charges. The U.S. is attempting to seize at least $48 million from Tucker, including a property in Aspen, Colorado, a Lear jet, six Ferraris and four Porsches.

Richard Moseley, a Kansas City, Missouri, man who allegedly generated $161 million in revenue from Internet lending, was also charged in February by federal prosecutors in New York with wire fraud and racketeering. The arrests follow charges in August 2014 against Carey Vaughn Brown, a former used-car salesman in Tennessee, for allegedly giving high-interest loans to New Yorkers.

Michael Rosensaft, Hallinan’s attorney at Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP, declined to comment on the charges.

The case is U.S. v. Hallinan,16-00130, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia).

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