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In 1997, Tucker hooked up with a Philadelphia businessman named Charles Hallinan, who was also involved in some payday-loan businesses. Together, they founded a payday-lending company called National Money Service, with Hallinan providing NMS's initial $500,000 line of credit. Tucker was president; Tucker's brother Blaine Tucker was vice president.
Despite the fact that a condition of the agreement with Hallinan was that the Tuckers could not start any businesses that would compete with NMS or Hallinan's entities, Tucker started CLK Management in 2001.
Over the next five years, Tucker, through CLK, is believed to have pioneered many of the shadowy hallmarks that now define the online payday-loan industry, such as constructing byzantine trails of front companies and merging with Indian tribes to provide his businesses with regulatory immunity. (Only the federal government can sue businesses on tribal lands. That makes it difficult for states to prosecute Tucker when his companies lend at interest rates surpassing the caps they have in place.)
William James, a former collection agent employed by CLK, gave an affidavit in 2008 stating that despite CLK's "official" tribal address, he went to work every day at an office in Overland Park that served as the company's actual headquarters. There was nothing to suggest that CLK was owned by an Indian tribe, he said. He also told lawyers about the bottomless complexity of CLK's corporate structure.
"In addition to owning One Click Cash, CLK also owned or was affiliated with ... Ameriloan, US Fast Cash, United Cash Loans, Preferred Cash Loans, and Internet Cash Advance Marketing," James stated. "I understand that there are at least 500 Internet-based payday-lending companies that are currently affiliated with one of the five companies mentioned above owned by CLK."
The affidavit sheds light on the company's lending practices as well.
"I often saw a customer loan of $300 turn into a $900 debt in a very short period of time, due to interest, rollover and late fees," James said. One month, James stated, he brought in $52,000 in collections. He estimated that 60 percent of that figure came from the principal of the borrowers' loans, and that the rest came from interest, rollover and late fees.
So hidden and shielded was Tucker that it was not until 2005 that any state authorities even learned his name. Tucker had gone so far as to hire someone to pose as the CEO of his business interests and register his shell companies. (This practice is, rather remarkably, legal in the state of Nevada.) Tucker's identity came to light only after the impostor was subpoenaed by the Colorado attorney general.
In 2009, Hallinan filed a lawsuit against Tucker after discovering that Tucker had not only started dozens of payday-loan businesses on the side but also transferred assets out of NMS and into Tucker's new businesses. (It was settled out of court.) Among other things, it revealed the nature of the relationships between Tucker's businesses and the Indian tribes — namely, that he was paying the Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma between just 1 and 2 percent of the revenues of his companies in exchange for renting their name and land for regulatory purposes.