U.S. judge says racecar driver, others owe $1.27 billion in payday case

October 3, 2016 4:33 PM EDT

Scott Tucker exits the Manhattan Federal Court in New York February 23, 2016. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

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By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) - A federal judge in Nevada said professional racecar driver Scott Tucker and several of his companies owe $1.27 billion to the Federal Trade Commission after systematically deceiving payday lending customers about the cost of their loans.

In a decision late on Friday, Chief Judge Gloria Navarro of the federal court in Las Vegas, Nevada said Tucker was "specifically aware" that customers often did not understand the terms of their loans, and was at least "recklessly indifferent" toward how those loans were marketed.

"Scott Tucker did not participate in an isolated, discrete incident of deceptive lending, but engaged in sustained and continuous conduct that perpetuated the deceptive lending since at least 2008," Navarro wrote.

The judge also barred Tucker from engaging in consumer lending.

Lawyers for Tucker did not immediately respond on Monday to requests for comment. Tucker had argued that there was no fraud or intent to deceive, and that his loans met industry standards.

The FTC on Monday asked Navarro to direct the turnover of some previously frozen assets to help satisfy the judgment.

Tucker, who races in the United States and Europe, faces separate criminal charges in Manhattan, where prosecutors accused him of running a $2 billion payday lending scheme that exploited 4.5 million consumers.

A trial in that case is scheduled for next April 17. Tucker pleaded not guilty in February.

Payday lending involves the issuance of short-term loans, often with high effective annual interest rates, to tide over borrowers until they receive their next paychecks.

Eighteen U.S. states and Washington, D.C. prohibit payday lending, or impose rate caps that effectively outlaw the practice, according to the Consumer Federation of America.

In its 2012 civil complaint, the FTC alleged that Tucker's businesses, such as National Money Service, caused many customers to pay more than triple the amounts they had borrowed.

The $1.27 billion judgment also covers AMG Capital Management LLC, Level 5 Motorsports LLC and two other Tucker companies.

It reflects the $1.32 billion sought by the FTC, minus about $52 million collected from or owed by other defendants.

"Where, as here, consumers suffer economic injury resulting from a defendant's violations of the FTC Act, equity requires monetary relief in the full amount lost by consumers," Navarro wrote.

The case is FTC v. AMG Services Inc, et al, U.S. District Court, District of Nevada, No. 12-00536.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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