RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A loan company in Virginia accused of lending at illegally high interest rates reached a $44 million settlement Tuesday in a scheme that used affiliation with two Native American Tribes to evade state laws.
The Virginia Poverty Law Center, which represented some of the plaintiffs, celebrated the settlement in a press release.
“The litigation stopped most of the illegal internet lenders, and legislation kicked out the payday and car title lenders,” wrote Jay Speer, Executive Director of the Virginia Poverty Law Center. “But a few illegal internet predators continue to target Virginians over the internet.”
In an initial complaint dated to 2018, which set off the four-year legal battle, plaintiffs alleged that a Texas-based company called “Think Finance,” operating through the shell companies Plain Green LLC and Great Plains Lending LLC, used a spurious affiliation with two Native American tribes to circumvent Virginia laws limiting the amount of interest that could be charged on loans.
According to the complaint, the company paid the Chippewa Cree and Otoe-Missouria tribes a flat fee to use their names — and tribal sovereignty — to claim exemption from Virginia’s laws, when in fact the tribes had no involvement in the operations of the company and had no stake in the loan companies themselves.
The plaintiffs say they were charged annual interest rates as high as 400%. In Virginia, lenders are barred from charging an APR of more than 12%.
Now, the companies have reached a class-action settlement with the plaintiffs, which means anyone who fell victim to the illegal lending practices can be eligible for a cash payment.
“Payouts benefit consumers with loans from companies identified as Great Plains Lending at any time, loans with Plain Green before June 1, 2016, or cash advances or lines of credit from MobiLoans before May 6, 2017,” the Judge’s order reads.
The companies will now be required to pay $44,530,000 into an escrow account, from which it will be distributed to those who qualify for the settlement.