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Great Plains “Tribal Sovereignty” High-Interest-Rate Loans RICO Class Action

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This is the fourth complaint these same plaintiffs have filed for this “rent-a-tribe” usury scheme, each time against a different group of defendants. The class action claims they have violated Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) laws as well as Virginia’s usury laws.

The main class for this action is all Virginia residents who executed a loan with Great Plains where any amount of the loan was repaid. Also proposed is a Virginia Usury Class and a Virginia Unjust Enrichment Class.

State laws normally place limits on the amount of interest that can be charged on loans. They also require that lenders be licensed and obey other lending laws for the protection of consumers. 

In recent years, a number of class actions have claimed that parties have tried to circumvent these laws by pretending that the lending is actually being done by a Native American tribe, so that tribal sovereignty exempts them from obeying state laws. These lawsuits claim that the tribes are only superficially involved, lending their names to the enterprises and receiving only a small part of the profits but having no part in providing funds, approving loans, or otherwise participating in the operations. 

In this case, the entity that made the loans is called Great Plains Lending, LLC (GPL). It is supposedly an enterprise of the Otoe-Missouria Tribe, but the complaint claims that the tribe had minimal involvement and received only 6% of the revenue from the loans. Instead, it says, companies like Think Finance provided most of the resources and operations and received most of the benefits. 

Defendants Mark Curry, Brian McGowan, and Eric Lau are, respectively, the founder and chief executive officer, co-founder and vice president, and executive and general counsel for the fourth defendant, Sentinel Resources. According to the complaint, Curry had already had business relationships with the tribe, and the three individuals arranged for and attended the first meeting of Think Finance and the tribe. 

The complaint lays out the complicated relationships of a number of entities, including Think Finance, the tribe, GPL Servicing, TC Administrative, TC Decision Sciences, and Sentinel Resources, who formed agreements to implement the high-interest lending plan. 

According to the complaint, Sentinel Resources had control over Great Plain operations that were not handled by Think Finance, was “the exclusive provider of guidance and authority in business dealings” between Think Finance and Great Plains, and handled communications between Think Finance and Great Plains or the tribe. 

The complaint claims that Sentinel was formed for the purpose of participation in the scheme. Curry, McGown, and Lau, it says, “dominated and controlled” Sentinel’s business operations and carried out the tasks required by its agreements with Think Finance.

Interest rates ran from 118% to 448%, well over Virginia’s 12% limit. The complaint thus claims that the defendants violated state laws as well as RICO laws against the collection of unlawful debt. 

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