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Think twice before heading to the airport with that huge wad of cash | Crime-and-courts



When he heads to airports now, Samuel Haile thinks of that day at Buffalo’s airport a few years ago. The government took $12,000 from his carry-on and wouldn’t give it back.

Haile was not charged with a crime, but he had to prove his cash was not a windfall from a drug sale or wasn’t about to be spent on illegal drugs.

“I was angry,” Haile said. “But there was really nothing I could do.”

Dozens of passengers have suffered such a loss in recent years in Buffalo. With an X-ray machine, a screener spots a dense mass in a piece of luggage. If it’s an unusually large sum of cash, the government takes it on the suspicion that it’s drug money. 

At Buffalo Niagara International and every other airport in the country, the Transportation Security Administration screens bags and people in the name of airline safety, not because police have probable cause to think a crime is underway.

Still, those searches enrich law enforcement.

TSA officer inspects baggage at Buffalo Niagara International Airport

A Transportation Security Administration officer inspects a traveler’s bag at a checkpoint at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport in Cheektowaga.

In Buffalo, according to internal reports obtained by The Buffalo News, airport police and federal agents seized more than $860,000 over four years – more than $17,000 a month, on average – without charging the traveler with a crime. In fact, the dozens of travelers relieved of their money were sent on their way.

In this age of credit cards and debit cards, most people need not carry large sums. Yet some people do, and no law prohibits flying within the United States with any amount of cash. Those travelers explained they were off to buy cars, legally gamble or relocate to new homes. But to agents and officers at the airport, many stories did not pass muster. The bills were dropped into evidence bags.

TSA screeners can only seize objects that might imperil an airliner, and cash does not pose such a threat. Yet the screeners set the wheels in motion. The documents obtained by The News through the Freedom of Information Law show that after spotting amounts as small as $6,000, screeners turned to supervisors, who turned to Niagara Frontier Transit Authority police. The police called in their federal partners in a joint task force, usually the DEA or the FBI.

Typically, someone asked if the traveler minded being driven over to the police station on Aero Drive for a few questions. Inside, a video camera was clicked on, and the traveler was asked to elaborate about occupation and income. Any hesitation or inconsistency was noted.

A drug-sniffing dog was led in. Most paper currency in the United States has come into contact with drugs, research has shown. The dog, in cases reviewed by The News, consistently confirmed the scent of narcotics. That gave the officials the final measure of probable cause needed to keep the cash. In a few weeks, the traveler received mailed instructions on how to appeal for the money’s return.

Because the NFTA police worked with federal agencies, the money was seized under the federal asset-forfeiture system. Under this route, the police agency is eligible to keep up to 80%, depending on how much work was involved. That’s a larger share than it would keep under New York’s law. Further, with the federal system, the police need not make an arrest.

NFTA Police Chief George Gast

NFTA Police Chief George Gast.

George Gast is chief of the NFTA police, a former FBI agent who occasionally worked undercover and supervised agents targeting organized crime and the drug trade. He says the money seized from travelers has gone to buy weapons, vehicles, Narcan and to finance many other law enforcement purposes.

Not all the travelers who are spotted with large sums of money have it taken, Gast says, “not by a long shot.”

“Am I confident we always get it right? Nobody’s 100%,” he said when asked if he believes his officers and federal agents are always correct in assuming a traveler had illegal motives when they seized money.

“But just because money is seized, doesn’t mean it is forfeited,” he said. “Whenever the money is seized, the person that money comes from has an opportunity to appeal that seizure.”

When the travelers went to court to get their money back, Richard D. Kaufman was often the government official working against them. Before he retired in June, Kaufman was an assistant U.S. attorney and an expert in the forfeiture law. He would gather facts in an attempt to show the money was gained illegally or the traveler intended to use it for illegal purposes.

When asked why many travelers who go to court to get their money back end up compromising and letting the government keep a portion, Kaufman acknowledged the expense of fighting back.

Travelers see the futility of paying a lawyer, say, $20,000 to recover $10,000, he said. Lawyers, Kaufman said, will advise clients to “cut your losses.”

Buffalo Niagara International Airport

Travelers walk to the Transportation Security Administration checkpoint at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport

The law

Haile, of Rochester, and countless travelers across the country became poorer because of Title 21, U.S. Code, section 881 (a)(6). It lets federal authorities take “all moneys, negotiable instruments, securities, or other things of value furnished or intended to be furnished by any person in exchange for a controlled substance or listed chemical …”

Sometimes, the authorities in Buffalo had good reason to be suspicious about money they saw. In January 2017, for example, the police and agents kept $9,928 found in luggage along with a marijuana grinder, gummi bears made of marijuana and instructions on how to grow marijuana. The traveler admitted he had grown marijuana in the past, records say.

Months later, NFTA police and the DEA took $64,000 from three people who said they were traveling to Houston for a birthday party. The officers and agents felt they were given vague answers as to how they came by the cash. Three days later, the NFTA police learned from officers in Houston that one of the travelers had just been arrested with a kilo of cocaine.

The News found two other cases where travelers who had their cash taken were later charged in large-scale drug investigations.

Haile and many others were different.

“I was a party promoter, and I dealt with a lot of cash,” he told The News.

An interrogation

In June 2016, Haile went to the Buffalo airport for a flight to Houston to visit friends. He and the friends were to drive to New Orleans for a festival, and Haile was eventually to fly to California to visit other friends. He explained to the officials that he carried the $12,000 because he had bad credit and his bank withdrawals were limited.

He told them he earned the money in three ways: He owned three taxis. He had started a small home improvement store. He owned “Train to Go Entertainment,” a party promotion business.

The money included 515 $20 bills.

The prosecutors found $20 bills suspicious. “Small denominations are more commonly used than other denominations in street-level drug trafficking,” they said in court papers.

Small denominations are used to pay taxi drivers, too, Haile countered, and to get into special parties and events, he said. As his case headed to court, Haile filed papers that included a flyer from an event he promoted: A ticket cost $20.

His father, a registered nurse in Rochester, wrote a letter to the federal judge. “I assure you that money was not collected by selling drugs,” he said. “I will never allow my son to be a drug dealer.”

But prosecutors also cited a minor conviction in his son’s past, attempted drug possession. The case had been disposed of with a conditional discharge three years earlier.

Inside the NFTA police station on Aero Drive, Haile watched as his money was placed in a cardboard box and one of the NFTA’s drug-sniffing dogs was brought in.

Richard D. Kaufman, a retired assistant U.S. attorney in Buffalo, explains civil forfeiture law and the government’s position.

Research led by a scientist at the University of Massachusetts in Dartmouth found a decade ago that up to 90% of U.S. paper currency contains traces of cocaine. Researchers have also found traces of heroin in as much of 70% of bills and lesser percentages of codeine, amphetamines and methamphetamines.

Kaufman, the now retired federal prosecutor, acknowledges those findings but relies on a court-tested study in Miami that showed dogs are not hitting on traces of contamination but on the scent of drugs, and the scent can dissipate in 48 to 72 hours unless the bills have been wrapped in say, cellophane, or materials that trap odors. To him, the Miami study proves a dog’s hit confirms the currency has been in recent contact with drugs.

Researchers have also found, however, that handlers can affect a dog’s findings. At the University of California at Davis in 2011, 18 police handlers were asked to lead their dogs through controlled searches for drugs, and they were told some hiding places were marked by a piece of red paper. Handlers weren’t told that no search area contained drugs. In the vast majority of searches, the dogs hit on a drug scent when they shouldn’t have. To the researchers, it indicated that a handler’s expectations can sway the outcome.

Gast said the dog is the final investigative technique used to establish the money is connected to the drug trade.

That was indeed true in Haile’s case. He watched as an NFTA dog scratched the box containing his money.

“The suspect was then advised that his currency was being seized,” the NFTA’s report says.

John Roneker

Law enforcement officers seized $36,000 from John Roneker, of Buffalo, at Buffalo Niagara International Airport in 2015, although he was not charged with a crime. He said he planned to use the money to buy a car in Oregon. 

Sharon Cantillon

$36,000 seized

Kaufman said authorities suspect that some travelers are taking large sums of money to three states where recreational marijuana is legal – California, Washington and Oregon – to buy large quantities and drive it back.

John E. Roneker, of Buffalo, was traveling to Oregon in February 2015 when he had $36,000 seized. But Roneker was flying a few months before the state completed its system legalizing marijuana.

Roneker said he didn’t try to conceal the money. He had read online advice telling him to notify the TSA screener that he was carrying a large amount of currency, so he did.

Roneker said he travels to car auctions or private sales to buy cars to resell. Sellers balk at personal checks, he said, and he has found that even cashier’s checks are looked at warily when presented by an out-of-towner. Cash makes sellers more comfortable and, he said, helps him bargain.

“Having cash gives you leverage,” he said.

Roneker showed the screener a business certificate for his company, Nickel City Wholesale Auto of Buffalo, and paperwork for the car, or cars, he had his eye on.

He was soon driven to NFTA police headquarters.

A DEA task force agent began making calls. People at the businesses in the Portland area that Roneker had dealings with didn’t back up every detail he had offered to the TSA or the police. For example, Gilbert Enterprises Auto Auction, near Grimsby, Ore., had no auctions scheduled for the day Roneker said he would be there. And it didn’t have a 1967 Barracuda, one of the cars Roneker said he intended to buy.

Roneker later responded in court papers that he never said he was going to a Gilbert auction and never said Gilbert had the Barracuda.

The DEA agent found Roneker had a criminal record and pulled out a marijuana-related arrest from 1989, when Roneker was 17 years old. In 1991, he was charged with resisting arrest and pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct, a violation. In January 2000 he was charged with assault but, the DEA found, the charge was dismissed a month later. In July 2014, he paid a $100 fine after admitting to a violation for possessing a personal amount of marijuana.

The vast majority of Roneker’s cash was in $20 bills – “characteristic of currency received by drug distributors from their customers,” the authorities wrote in court papers.

At police headquarters, an NFTA officer brought in Deuce, a dog “capable of detecting the odors of marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamines and their derivatives,” court papers said. When Deuce was done, the police told Roneker he could fly to Oregon but his money could not.

“They put me through hell for no reason,” Roneker said. “You were assumed guilty and you had to prove you were innocent.”


Travelers go through the TSA security checkpoint at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport.

Mark Mulville

The authorities found no criminal record to use against Daniel A. Sherer. Regardless, they took his $49,900. Most of it, $45,000, was held in two document-sized envelopes in his carry-on bag in 2015. The rest was in a fishing boot in his checked bag.

Sherer told police the $45,000 came from an insurance settlement after fire destroyed his fishing boat 10 years earlier, in Dana Point, Calif. At the time, Sherer explained, he was dealing with alcoholism and gambling issues, so he gave the settlement money to a friend for safekeeping. A decade later, Sherer and the friend had a falling out, and he flew to Buffalo to retrieve the money. The friend, a Cheektowaga resident, met him at a Dunkin Donuts near the airport and handed it over, Sherer explained to authorities.

The NFTA police and an FBI agent figured the money was drug proceeds because some of the bills had been printed after 2004 or 2005, when Sherer asked the friend to hold the money. Most of the bills were twenties, “significant in that law enforcement believes that the $20 bills are often an indicator of drug traffickers,” the authorities said in court papers. Further, a specially trained dog had found that “controlled substances had recently been in contact with the currency.”

Cash is the defendant

Travelers who have their cash taken can file a “petition,” asking the federal agency involved in taking the money to return it. Travelers also can take their case to federal court.

They are asking that their money be pardoned because in the eyes of the federal government, the cash is the defendant. For example, Sherer’s one case was titled “United States of America v. $49,900 in United States currency.” The lawyers call the money “the defendant currency.”

Money lacks the same rights as a person. To convict a person of a crime, prosecutors must prove their case “beyond a reasonable doubt,” the highest legal standard. To forfeit money or property, prosecutors can win with a “preponderance of the evidence,” the lowest standard. They need to show only that it’s more likely than not that the cash was obtained illegally or will be spent for illegal purposes.

It’s also more likely than not the government will keep the seized money no matter how the traveler fights back. In March 2017, the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General reported that over 10 years, the DEA returned money 8% of the time. Part of the reason might lie in the fact that not everyone tries to get the money back. Claims or petitions were filed in just 20% of the DEA’s total seizures. Of those 20%, cash was returned in roughly four out of 10 cases.

“It’s very difficult to get the money once the seizure happens,” said Paul Avelar, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice, a nonprofit law firm devoted to, among other things, helping people recover their money. “You have to prove your own innocence. And if you can’t prove your own innocence, you lose your money.”

In its research, the Institute for Justice has found that “civil forfeiture,” which allows the government to take property without proving a crime, has become far more common than criminal forfeiture. In one of its reports on the topic, called “Policing for Profit,” the institute says “civil forfeiture laws pose some of the greatest threats to property rights in the nation today.”

The NFTA police, for example, got to keep around $1.2 million that was seized from 2012-2016 without having to make an arrest, both at the airport and in work in and around Buffalo, according to Justice Department statistics analyzed by the Institute for Justice. By contrast, the NFTA’s share of money from criminal forfeiture – after a conviction – amounted to about $23,000 over those years.

August Terrence Rolin

August Terrence Rolin and his daughter Rebecca Brown filed a class-action lawsuit in January, months after the Drug Enforcement Agency seized $82,373 from Brown at the Pittsburgh airport. Brown says she was attempting to fly with her father’s life savings to Boston, where she planned to open a bank account for him. 

Retirement money seized

In January, the institute filed a class-action lawsuit against the TSA and the DEA on behalf of August Terrence Rolin of Pittsburgh and his daughter, Rebecca Brown of Boston. Brown had $82,373 seized from her at the Pittsburgh airport in August of last year. Neither was charged with a crime.

The lawsuit lays out this account: Rolin, a retired railroad engineer, felt more comfortable keeping his cash in his home. But as he moved from his house to an apartment, he asked his daughter, to whom he had given power of attorney, to place his cash in a checking account for him. The request came near the tail end of his daughter’s visit. She figured she would open the account when she returned to Boston, and from there she would pay most of her father’s bills. She took the cash with her.

Rebecca Brown checked online and found it’s legal to carry any sum of money on a domestic flight, according to the Institute for Justice. But when the money showed up on an X-ray, the Pennsylvania State Police and then a DEA agent questioned her. The DEA agent took the $82,373. Then in early March, seven months after the money was taken and after a blizzard of publicity, the DEA relented. Brown and her father got the money back. The Institute for Justice is still pursing the class-action case.

Giving up

Not every traveler enlists a lawyer, or lawyers, to recover their money.

“I could not afford the lawyer,” said Maxie S. Cohen of Rochester, who had an attorney file court papers for him but later surrendered most of the $70,100 taken at the Buffalo airport in November 2018.

Cohen was flying with his friend Susan Fisher to Los Angeles. Fisher, who had been carrying the money in her suitcase, refused to answer the officers’ questions that day. But Cohen told The News she was thinking of relocating to California and investing in a restaurant there. In court papers, prosecutors never disputed Cohen’s explanation that the money had come from lottery winnings, and he had paid tax on it.

But years earlier he had sent $8,000 in cash to California for a Jaguar and didn’t contest that seizure after a police dog alerted handlers to the scent of drugs inside the package, the government said in court papers. (Cohen told The News he was acting as an intermediary for a friend, and it was up to the friend to recover the money.)

Because an NFTA dog in 2018 identified traces of narcotics on the currency seized at Buffalo’s airport, the government said a preponderance of the evidence showed the money was to be spent buying drugs.

Months later, Cohen agreed the government could keep $42,060. He got back $28,040.

Similarly, Haile agreed to give up a portion of his $12,000 – a little over $5,000. The rest was for him, but he didn’t see it again. The balance went to pay overdue state and federal income taxes. He said he also gave up on his trip to Houston, New Orleans and California. With his money seized, he could no longer afford to go.

Daniel Sherer, who had almost $50,000 seized, got back $20,000. The government kept the rest.

As for Buffalo’s Roneker, he was given back $20,000 of the $36,430 seized at the airport but had to use his share to pay late city and county taxes, a water bill and to pay off a judgment against him held by the Riverside Federal Credit Union.

Roneker’s financial situation was already under stress. He had lost a house in Niagara County before moving to Buffalo. Not long after the government kept more than $16,000, he filed for bankruptcy.

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Inside the Highly Profitable and Secretive World of Payday Lenders



Illustration by Sarah Maxwell, Folio Art

When Bridget Davis got started in the family’s payday lending business in 1996, there was just one Check ’n Go store in Cincinnati. She says she did it all: customer service, banking duties, even painting walls.

The company had been established two years earlier by her husband, Jared Davis, and was growing rapidly. There were 100 Check ’n Go locations by 1997, when Jared and Bridget (née Byrne) married and traveled the country together looking for more locations to open storefront outlets. They launched another 400 stores in 1998, mostly in strip malls and abandoned gas stations in low-income minority neighborhoods where the payday lending target market abounds. Bridget drove the supply truck and helped select locations and design the store layouts.

But Jared soon fired his wife for committing what may be the ultimate sin in the payday lending business: She forgave a customer’s debt. “A young woman came to pay her $20 interest payment,” Bridget wrote in court documents last year during divorce proceedings from Jared. “I pulled her file, calculated that she had already paid $320 to date on a principle [sic] loan of $100. I told her she was paid in full. [Jared] fired me, stating, ‘We are here to make money, not help customers manage theirs. If you can’t do that, you can’t work here.’ ”

Photograph by Brittany Dexter

It’s a business philosophy that pays well, especially if you’re charging fees and interest rates of 400 percent that can more than triple the amount of the loan in just five months—the typical time most payday borrowers need to repay their debt, says the Pew Charitable Trusts, a nonprofit organization focused on public policy. Cincinnati-based Check ’n Go now operates more than 1,100 locations in 25 states as well as an internet lending service with 24/7 access from the comfort of your own home, according to its website. Since its founding, the company has conducted more than 50 million transactions.

What the website doesn’t say is that many, if not most, of those transactions were for small loans of $50 to $500 to working people trying to scrape by and pay their bills. In most states—including Ohio, until it reformed its payday lending laws in 2019—borrowers typically fork over more than one-third of their paycheck to meet the deadline for repayment, usually in two weeks. To help guarantee repayment, borrowers turn over access to their checking account or deposit a check with the lender. In states that don’t offer protection, customers go back again and again to borrow more money from the same payday lender, typically up to 10 times, driving themselves into a debt trap that can lead to bankruptcy.

Jared and Bridget Davis are embroiled in a nasty court battle related to his 2019 divorce filing in Hamilton County Domestic Relations Court. Thousands of pages of filings and 433 docket entries by April 26 offer the public a rare glimpse into the business operations of Check ’n Go, one of Cincinnati’s largest privately-owned companies, as well as personal lifestyles funded by payday lending.

The company cleared $77 million in profit in 2018, a figure that dipped the following year to $55 million, according to an audit by Deloitte. That drop in revenue may have something to do with the payday lending reform laws and interest rate caps passed recently in Ohio as well as a growing number of other states.

The day-to-day business transactions that provide such profit are a depressing window into how those who live on the edge of financial security are often stuck with few options for improving their situations. If a borrower doesn’t repay or refinance his or her original loan, a lender like Check ’n Go deposits the guarantee check and lets it bounce, causing the borrower to incur charges for the bounced check and eventually lose his or her checking account, says Nick DiNardo, an attorney for the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati. After two missed payments, payday lenders usually turn over the debt to a collection agency. If the collection agency fails to collect the full amount of the original loan as well as all fees and interest, it goes to court to garnish the borrower’s wages.

That devastating experience is all too familiar to Anthony Smith, a 60-year-old Wyoming resident who says he was laid off from several management positions over a 20-year period. He turned to payday lenders as his credit rating dropped and soon found himself caught in a debt trap that took him years to escape.

Two things happened in 2019, Smith says, that turned around his financial fortunes. First, he found a stable manufacturing job with the Formica Company locally, and then he took his mother’s advice and opened a credit union account. GE Credit Union not only gave him a reasonable loan to pay off his $2,500 debt but also issued him his first credit card in a decade. “I had been a member [of the credit union] for just two months, and I had a credit rating of 520. Can you imagine?” he says. Smith says he is now debt-free for the first time in 10 years.

Consumer advocates say Check ’n Go is one of the biggest payday lending operations in the nation. But knowing its exact ranking is difficult because most payday lending companies, including Check ’n Go and its parent company CNG Holdings, are privately held and reluctant to disclose their finances.

Brothers Jared and David Davis own the majority of the company’s privately held stock. David bought into the company in 1995, but CNG got its game-changing infusion of capital from the brothers’ father, Allen Davis, who retired as CEO of then-Provident Bank in 1998. Allen sold off $37 million in stock options and essentially became CNG’s bank and consultant.

By 2005, however, the sons were part of a public court battle against their father. Allen accused Jared and David of treating his millions in CNG stock as compensation instead of a transfer from his ex-wife (and the brothers’ mother), sticking him with a $13 million tax bill. In turn, the brothers accused Allen of putting his mistress and his yacht captain on the company payroll, taking $1.2 million in fees without board approval, and leading the company into ventures that lost Check ’n Go a lot of money. Several years of legal fighting later, the IRS was still demanding its $13 million. CNG officials did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

Jared and David split $22 million in profit from CNG in 2018 and, according to the Deloitte audit, CNG’s balance sheet showed another $42 million that could be split between the two brothers in 2019. Jared, however, elected not to receive his $21 million distribution “in order to create this artificial financial crisis and shelter millions of dollars from an equitable split between us,” according to Bridget’s divorce filing.

Worse, she claims, Jared said they would be responsible for paying taxes out of their personal accounts rather than from CNG’s company earnings, making her personally responsible for half of the $5.5 million in taxes for 2019. She believes it wasn’t happenstance that $5.5 million was wired to Jared’s private bank account in December of that same year. Bridget has refused to sign the joint tax return, and Jared filed a complaint with the court saying a late tax filing would cost them $1 million in penalties and missed tax opportunities.

“For the duration of our marriage and to the present, Jared has full and complete control of all money paid to us from various investments we have made in addition to our main source of income, CNG,” Bridget wrote in her motion. She suspects that Jared, without her knowledge or consent, plowed the money for their taxes and from other sources of income into Black Diamond Group, the fund that invests in the Agave & Rye restaurant chain. Beyond the original restaurant opened in Covington in 2018, “they have opened four other locations in one year,” she wrote, including Louisville and Lexington. (The ninth location opened in Hamilton this spring.) Agave & Rye’s website touts its Mexican fare as “a chef-inspired take on the standard taco, elevating this simple food into something epic!”

In his response, Jared wrote, “We have very limited regular sources of income.” He says he isn’t receiving any additional distributions from CNG, the couple’s primary source of income, “and this is not within my control. The company has declared that we would not make any further distributions in 2020 given economic circumstances. This decision is based on a formula and is not discretionary.” Agave & Rye helped produce $645,000 in income for Black Diamond in 2020 but has paid out $890,000 in loans, he says. Through August 31, 2020, he wrote, the couple’s “expenses have exceeded income from all sources.”

The divorce case filings start slinging mud when the couple accuses each other of breaking up their 22-year marriage and finding new partners. Jared claims Bridget began an affair during their marriage with Brian Duncan, a contractor she employed through her house flipping business. Bridget, he says, paid Duncan’s company $75,000 in 2018 as well as giving him a personal gift of $70,000 that same year. Jared says she also bought Duncan at least one car and purchased a house for him near hers on Shawnee Run Road for $289,000, then loaned money to Duncan. Jared says Duncan has been late in repaying the note.

While Bridget says Duncan has been drug-free for several years, he has a rap sheet with Hamilton County courts from 2000 to 2017 that runs five pages long. It lists a half-dozen counts of drug abuse and drug possession, including heroin and possession of illegal drug paraphernalia; assaulting a police officer; stealing a Taser from a police officer; criminal damaging while being treated at UC Health; more than a dozen speeding and traffic violations; a half-dozen counts of driving with a suspended license; receiving stolen property; twice fleeing and resisting arrest; three counts of theft; two counts of forgery; and one count for passing bad checks.

Bridget has fired back that Jared not only is hiding his money from her but spending it lavishly on vacations, resorts, and high-end restaurants with his new girlfriend, Susanne Warner. Bridget says Jared gifted Warner with $40,000 without Bridget’s knowledge, then declared it on their joint tax return as a “contribution.” Bridget’s court filings include photocopies of social media posts of Jared and Warner globetrotting from summer 2019 to summer 2020: vacation at Beaver Creek Village in Avon, Colorado; cocktails at High Cotton in Charleston, South Carolina, and dinner at Melvyn’s Restaurant and Lounge in Palm Springs, California; getaways at resorts in Nashville and at a lakefront rental on Norris Lake ($600 per night); in the Bahamas at a Musha Cay private residence ($57,000 per night), at South Beach in Miami, and at a private beach at Fisher Island; in Mexico at Cabo San Lucas; in the U.S. Virgin Islands at Magen’s Bay and on a private yacht ($4,500 per night); in California at Desert Hot Springs, the Ritz-Carlton in Rancho Mirage, and Montage at Laguna Beach; and in the Bahamas at South Cottage ($2,175 per night).

For her part, Bridget has gone through some of the top lawyers in town faster than President Trump during an impeachment—six in all, two of whom she’s sued for malpractice. She sent four binders of evidence to the Ohio Supreme Court, asking for the recusal of Hamilton County Judge Amy Searcy and claiming Searcy was biased because of campaign donations from Jared and his companies. Rather than deal with the list of questions sent to her by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, Searcy stepped down. Two other judges have since stepped into the fray, and in March Bridget filed for a change of venue outside of Hamilton County, arguing she can’t get a fair trial in her hometown. At press time, a trial date had been set for June 28 in Hamilton County.

The poor-mouthing in the divorce case has reached heights of comic absurdity. Jared claims he’s “illiquid” because he didn’t get his distribution from CNG in 2019. Bridget has received debt collection notices for the nearly $21,000 owed on her American Express card and a $735 bill from Jewish Hospital. There’s no sign yet that anyone is coming to repossess her Porsche, which according to her filings has a $5,000 monthly payment. Each party has received $25,000 a month in living expenses, an amount later reduced to $15,000 under a temporary legal agreement while the divorce case is being sorted out. Court filings show that Jared’s net worth is almost $206 million and Bridget’s is $22.5 million.

In the early 1990s, Allen Davis was raising eyebrows at Provident Bank (later bought by National City), and not only because of his very unbanker-like look of beard, ponytail, and casual golf wear. He was leading the company into questionable subprime home loans for people with bad credit and a frequent-shopper program for merchants, though the bank’s charter barred him from getting involved in full-blown predatory lending practices. With guidance and funding from his father, Jared, at age 26, launched Check ’n Go in 1994 and became a pioneer in the payday lending industry. Jared and his family saw there were millions of Americans who didn’t have checking or savings accounts (“unbanked”) or an adequate credit rating (“underbanked”) but still needed loans to meet their everyday expenses. What those potential customers did have was a steady paycheck.

Conventional banks share a big part of the blame for the nation’s army of unbanked borrowers by imposing checking account fees and onerous penalties for bounced checks. In 2019, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation estimated there were 7.1 million U.S. households without a checking or savings account.

The Davises launched Check ’n Go on the pretext that it would “fill the gap” for people who occasionally needed to borrow money in a hurry—a service for those who couldn’t get a loan any other way. But consumer advocates say the real business model for payday lending isn’t a service at all. The majority of the industry’s revenue comes from repeat business by customers trapped in debt, not from borrowers looking for a quick, one-time fix for their financial troubles.

Ohio’s payday lending lobbyists got a strong hold on the state legislature in the late 1990s, and by 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Richard Cordray could rightfully claim in a campaign ad that “Ohio’s [payday lending] laws are now the worst in the nation. Things have gotten so bad that it is legal to charge 594 percent interest on loans.” His statement was based on a 2014 study by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

The frustration for consumer advocates was that Ohioans had been trying to reform those laws since 2008, when voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative placing a 28 percent cap on the interest of payday loans. But—surprise!—lenders simply registered as mortgage brokers, which enabled them to charge unlimited fees.

The Davis family and five other payday lending companies controlled 90 percent of the market back then, an express gravy train ripping through the poorest communities in Ohio. The predatory feeding frenzy, especially in Ohio’s hard-hit Rust Belt communities, prompted a 2017 column at The Daily Beast titled, “America’s Worst Subprime Lender: Jared Davis vs. Allan Jones?” (Jones is founder and CEO of Tennessee-based Check Into Cash.) In 2016 and 2017, consumer advocates mustered their forces again, and this time they weren’t allowing for loopholes. The Pew Charitable Trusts joined efforts with bipartisan lawmakers and Ohioans for Payday Loan Reform, a statewide coalition of faith, business, local government, and nonprofit organizations. Consumer advocates found a legislative champion in State Rep. Kyle Koehler, a Republican from Springfield.

It no doubt helped reform efforts that former Ohio Speaker of the House Cliff Rosenberger resigned in spring 2018 amid an FBI investigation into his cozy relationship with payday lenders. Rosenberger had taken frequent overseas trips—to destinations including France, Italy, Israel, and China—in the company of payday lending lobbyists. In April 2019, Ohio’s new lending law took effect and, since then, has been called a national model for payday lending reform that balances protections for borrowers, profits for lenders, and access to credit for the poor, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts. New prices in Ohio are three to four times lower for payday loans than before the law. Borrowers now have up to three months to repay their loans with no more than 6 percent of their paycheck. Pew estimates that the cost of borrowing $400 for three months dropped from $450 to $109, saving Ohioans at least $75 million a year. And despite claims that the reforms would eliminate access to credit, lenders currently operate in communities across the state and online. “The bipartisan success shows that if you set fair rules and enforce them, lenders play by them and there’s widespread access to credit,” says Gabe Kravitz, a consumer finance officer at the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Other states like Virginia, Kansas, and Michigan are following Ohio’s lead, Kravitz says. Some states, such as Nebraska, have even capped annual interest on payday loans. As a result, Pew researchers have seen a reduction in the number of storefront lending op­erations across the country. Even better, Kravitz says, there’s no evidence that borrowers are turning instead to online payday lending operations.

Cincinnati is one of five cities chosen for a grant to replicate the success of Boston Builds Credit, an ambitious effort that city launched in 2017 to provide credit counseling in poor and minority communities by training specialists at existing social service agencies. The program also encourages consumer partnerships with credit unions, banks, and insurance companies to offer small, manageable loans that can help the unbanked and underbanked improve their credit ratings. “Right now, local organizations are all kind of working in silos on the problem in Cincinnati,” says Todd Moore of the nonprofit credit counseling agency Trinity Debt Relief. Moore, who applied for the Boston grant, says he’s looking for an agency like United Way or Strive Cincinnati to lead the effort here.

Anthony Smith is thankful that he’s escaped the downward spiral of his payday loans, especially during the pandemic’s economic turmoil. “I’m blessed for every day I can get paid and have a job during these difficult times, just to be able to pay my bills and meet my responsibilities,” he says. “I’ve always kept a job, but until now I’ve had crappy credit. That doesn’t mean I’m a bad guy.”

Can others worth millions of dollars say the same?

Inside the Highly Profitable and Secretive World of Payday Lenders Source link Inside the Highly Profitable and Secretive World of Payday Lenders

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Bad Credit

What’s Questionable Credit and Can I Get a Car Loan With It?



Questionable’s definition means that something’s quality is up for debate. If a lender says that your credit score is questionable, it’s likely that they mean it’s poor, or at the very least, they’re hesitant to approve you for vehicle financing. Here’s what most lenders consider questionable credit, and what auto loan options you may have.

Questionable Credit and Auto Lenders

Many auto lenders may consider questionable credit as a borrower with a credit score below 660. The credit score tiers as sorted by Experian the national credit bureau, are:

  • Super prime: 850 to 781
  • Prime: 780 to 661
  • Nonprime: 660 to 601
  • Subprime: 600 to 501
  • Deep subprime: 500 to 300

The nonprime credit tiers and below is when you start to get into bad credit territory and may struggle to meet the credit score requirements of traditional auto lenders.

This is because lenders are looking at your creditworthiness – your perceived ability to repay loans based on the information in your credit reports. Besides your actual credit score, there may be situations where the items in your credit reports are what’s making a lender question whether you’re a good candidate for an auto loan. These can include:

  • A past or active bankruptcy
  • A past or recent vehicle repossession
  • Recent missed/late payments
  • High credit card balances
  • No credit history

There are ways to get into an auto loan with questionable credit. Your options can change depending on what’s making your credit history questionable, though.

Questionable Credit Auto Loans

If your credit score is less than stellar, it may be time to look at these two lending options:

  • What Is Questionable Credit and Can I Get a Car Loan With It?Subprime financing – Done through special finance dealerships by third-party subprime lenders. These lenders can often assist with many unique credit situations, provided you can meet their requirements. A great option for new borrowers with thin files, situational bad credit, or consumers with older negative marks.
  • In-house financing – May not require a credit check, and is done through buy here pay here (BHPH) dealers. Typically, your income and down payment amount are the most important parts of eligibility. Auto loans without a credit check may not allow for credit repair and may come with a higher-than-average interest rate.

Both of these car loan options are typically available to borrowers with credit challenges. However, if you have more recent, serious delinquencies on your credit reports, a BHPH dealer may be for you. Most traditional and subprime lenders typically don’t approve financing for borrowers with a dismissed bankruptcy, a repossession less than a year old, or borrowers with multiple, recent missed/late payments.

Requirements of Bad Credit Car Loans

In many cases, your income and down payment size are the biggest factors in your overall eligibility for bad credit auto loans. Expect to need:

  • 30 days of recent computer-generated check stubs to prove you have around $1,500 to $2,500 of monthly gross income. Borrowers without W-2 income may need two to three years of professionally prepared tax returns.
  • A down payment of at least $1,000 or 10% of the vehicle’s selling price. BHPH dealers may require up to 20% of the car’s selling price.
  • Proof of residency in the form of a recent utility bill in your name.
  • Proof of a working phone (no prepaid phones), proven with a recent phone bill in your name.
  • A list of five to eight personal references with name, phone number, and address.
  • Valid driver’s license with the correct address, can’t be revoked, expired, or suspended.

Depending on your individual situation, you may need fewer or more items to apply for a bad credit auto loan. However, preparing these documents before you head to a dealership can speed up the process!

Ready to Get on the Road?

With questionable credit, finding a dealership that’s able to assist you with an auto loan is easier said than done. Here at Auto Credit Express, we want to get that done for you with our coast-to-coast network of special finance dealerships.

Complete our free auto loan request form and we’ll get right to work looking for a dealer in your local area that can assist with many tough credit situations.

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Bad Credit

Entrepreneur Tae Lee Finds Her Fortune



By Jasmine Shaw
For The Birmingham Times

Birmingham native Tae Lee had plans last year to visit the continent of Africa, the South American country of Columbia, and the U.S. state of Texas.

“I was going to stay in each place for like four to six weeks, and then COVID-19 happened,” she said. “So, I just was like, ‘You know what, I’m just gonna go to Mexico and stay for six months.’”

Once home from Playa Del Carmen, located on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, the 33-year-old entrepreneur put the final touches on “Game of Fortune: Win in Wealth or Lose in Debt,” a financial literacy card game for ages 10 and up.

“We created ‘Game of Fortune’ because we realized there was a gap in learning the fundamentals of money,” said Lee. “We go through life not knowing anything about money and then—‘Bam!’—real life hits. Credit, debt, and bills come at us quick!”

Lee believes the game “gives players a glimpse of real life” by using everyday scenarios to teach them how to make wiser financial decisions without having to waste their own money.

“I feel like [financial literacy] can be learned in ways other than somebody standing up and preaching it to you over and over again,” she said. “You can learn it in ways that are considered fun, as well.”

Which is why “we want the schools to buy it, so we can give students a fun way to learn about financial literacy,” she added.

Lee, also called the “Money Maximizer,” is an international best-selling financial author, speaker, coach, and trainer who is known for her financial literacy books, including “Never Go Broke (NGB): An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Money and Freedom” and the “NGB Money Success Planner High School Edition.” The Birmingham-based financial guru focuses on creating diverse streams of income in the tax, real estate, insurance, and finance industries.

For Lee, it’s about building generational wealth, not debt.

Indispensable Lessons

Lee got her first glance at entrepreneurial life as a child watching her mother, Valeria Robinson, run her commercial cleaning company, V’s Cleaning. Robinson retired in 2019.

“My grandmother had a cleaning service, too,” said Lee. “So, even though I didn’t start out as an entrepreneur, watching my mom and grandma do it taught me a lot.”

Lee grew up in Birmingham and attended Riley Elementary School, Midfield Middle School, and Huffman High School. She then went on to Jacksonville State University, in Jacksonville, Alabama, where she earned bachelor’s degree in physical education. She struggled to find a career in her field and became overwhelmed by student loans.

“My credit and stuff didn’t get bad until after college,” she said. “I was going through school and taking money, but nobody told me, ‘Oh, you’re gonna have to pay all of this back.’”

Before embarking on her extensive career in money management, Lee had not learned the indispensable lessons that she now shares with clients.

“‘Don’t have bad credit.’ That’s all I learned,” she remembers. “Financial literacy just wasn’t taught much. I learned the majority of my lessons as I aged.”

In an effort to ward off collection calls and raise her credit score, Lee researched tactics to strategically eliminate her debt.

“I knew I had to pay bills on time, and I couldn’t be late with payments,” she said.

Lee eventually began helping friends revamp their finances and opened NGB Inc. in 2017 to share fun, educational methods to help her clients build solid financial foundations.

“People were always coming to me like, ‘How do I invest in this?’ and ‘How do I do that?’ So, I said to myself, ‘You know what, people should be paying to pick your brain.’”

Legacy Building

While Lee enjoyed watching her clients reach milestones, like buying a new car with cash or making their first stock market investment, she was also designing “Game of Fortune” to teach the value of legacy building.

“The game gives players the knowledge to build generational wealth, not generational debt,” she said. “It gives you a glimpse of life, money, and what can truly happen if you mismanage your coins.”

Using index cards to create her first “Game of Fortune” sample deck, Lee filled each card with pertinent terms related to debt elimination and credit and wealth building. She then called on a few friends to help her work through the kinks.

Three of her good friends—Barbara Bratton, Daña Brown, and Sha Cannon—were just a few of the people that gave feedback on the sample deck.

“From there I met with Brandon Brooks, [owner of the Birmingham-based Brooks Realty Investments LLC], and four other financial advisors to fine-tune the definitions and game logistics,” Lee said.

Though Lee was unable to land a job in physical education after graduating from college, she now sees her career with NGB Inc. as life’s unexpected opportunity to teach on her own terms.

“Bartending and waitressing taught me that working for someone else was not for me,” she replied. “In order to get the life I always wanted, I had to create my own business.”

In her entrepreneurial pursuits, Lee strives to be an open-minded leader who embraces the need for flexibility.

“COVID-19 has shown me that in entrepreneurship you have to maneuver,” she said. “When life changes, sometimes your business will, too. You may have to change the path, but your ending goal can be the same.”

“Game of Fortune: Win in Wealth or Lose in Debt” is available and sold only on the “Game of Fortune” website: To learn more about Tae Lee and Never Go Broke Inc., visit and or email; you also can follow her on Facebook ( and Instagram (@nevergobrokeinc).

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