Tale of Alabama man's payday lending schemes
Meet John Gill Jr.
For at least 14 years, various payday loan schemes he operated around the country have made him a very rich man.
The 48-year-old lives in a wealthy area north of Phenix City, Ala., in a waterfront home on the Chattahoochee River, which divides Alabama and Georgia. Columbus, Ga., sits across the river from Phenix City.
Gill's operations since 1992 have landed him in trouble with the law in Alabama, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia and Washington.
But despite cease and desist orders, consent orders, assurances of discontinuance, injunctions, settlement agreements and appellate court decisions from states across the country, Gill often keeps right on operating in the same location by simply changing his companies' names, its principals or guise to conceal his ongoing illegal payday loan activities, sources say.
His companies, which the Texas attorney general charges are really loan-sharking operations targeting military personnel, charge as much as 782 percent interest a year.
In response to a Georgia class action suit in 2003, Gill filed for bankruptcy and "purportedly took a vow of poverty and conveyed all his assets to the 'Ten Talents Ministry' and related entities, which he controlled, " to merely avoid civil and criminal liability, First Judicial Circuit Court records in Escambia County reveal.
But will Gill finally face criminal charges that land him behind bars? Will his businesses finally be closed once and for all?
Maybe. Maybe not.
The "lender in disguise, " as he has been called by state authorities, is scheduled for trial Monday, July 24 in state court in Pensacola on a first-degree felony charge of unlawfully conducting a business enterprise under the state's anti-racketeering laws.
It's a case that's drawing national interest from consumer groups, such as the Durham, N.C.-based Center for Responsible Lending.
They're not only interested because it's Gill, whose antics ended up in the New York Times in a 2004 story when the New York Attorney General accused him of making "unlawful and deceptive" loans, but because the case is a criminal one.
CRL Senior Policy Counsel Yolanda McGill says unscrupulous businessmen, like Gill, often face action from overmatched state regulatory agencies, which lack any real ability to levy fines or other penalties to shut them down.
"We're very interested to see how a felony case works out, " McGill says. "Regulatory action has not been able to stop a guy like this. They just don't have the tools in the toolbox to stop him. That's obvious when I see an actor like John Gill at it for so long and making a killing doing it. It's apparent that it's a business decision of his to take a lot of risks, pay a fine and keep going. I don't think the John Gills are as rare as the payday lending industry says they are."
Assistant State Attorney Russ Edgar says Gill and his associates for years have persisted in "criminal usury and loan sharking" in recently filed Circuit Court legal documents.
"It is Gill's history of obfuscation and deceit, which the state intends to use to prove his intent, plan, knowledge, identity and absence of mistake in this case, " Edgar says. "In spite of the multiple actions by state authorities over a period of years, Gill continued to operate in the same manner, as part of a plan, and not from any mistake."
Gill and his attorney, O. Hale Almand Jr., of Macon, Ga., don't just have Escambia County to worry about. Almand did not return an Independent News call to answer questions about Gill and this case.
Almand is also busy defending Gill in Texas. There, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott froze Gill's assets and sued his company in May for violating Texas finance laws and the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act by charging interest rates as high as 782 percent on short-term cash advance loans.
Payday loans in Australia are part of the small loans market, which was estimated in 2008 to be between $800m and $1bn a year, although it seems likely that the true market was and currently is higher than this.
The growth of this market mirrors the growth in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Because the market for small loans...
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