By Clarissa Kell-Holland
Trucker Joseph Barretto has been shoveling his way out of a financial blizzard since he first came in contact with Global Funding LLC, a Clearwater, FL, equipment leasing company, nearly a year ago.
The OOIDA member from Port Saint Lucie, FL, said Global Funding and its managing member, Jeffrey Maricle, did a snow job on him after he signed his name on the dotted line and sent in his life’s savings – more than $8,000 – for the required lease deposit to “lock in the deal” on a used truck – a 2000 Freightliner Classic – in February 2008.
After making his deal with Maricle, Barretto said his life went into a downward financial spiral. He lost his family’s nest egg, his 2005 Peterbilt 387 and his home, as well as his pride. To top it all, he never took possession of the truck he leased.
“It’s hard to come forward and admit something like this happened to you, but I am doing this to make members out there aware that these con artists are out there and they are targeting truckers,” Barretto told Land Line Magazine.
Margo Fries, who heads up OOIDA’s Equipment Finance Department, reviews lease agreements at no cost to Association members. She agrees there are few safeguards in place and little oversight of commercial leases to protect truckers from getting taken advantage of in these predatory commercial lease deals.
Fries said she advises truckers to read everything before they sign to make sure they actually get the truck after they fulfill the terms of their lease agreement – some leases don’t specify – or make sure an astronomical balloon payment isn’t needed at the end of the lease agreement.
“What we try to stress here is that if you don’t understand the terms or if you have any questions at all, don’t sign it before you have someone review it,” Fries told Land Line in December.
Joseph Barretto said he highly recommends following Fries’ advice to read before signing on the bottom line.
“Be very aware, read everything and consider everything before you sign, which is one of the hard lessons I learned,” he said. “But I am going to keep pushing as hard as I can. I am going to recover from this, I am. But I want to get the message out so maybe I can prevent someone else from going through what I did.”
Bankrupt and without a truck, Barretto said he was forced to go back to work as a company driver for approximately eight months before he could get back in his own truck. He has retained an attorney and is pursuing a civil case against Global Funding and Maricle. As of press time, he was waiting on a court date.
“I am going to keep pushing as hard as I can,” he said. “I am not going to let him (Maricle) get away with this. I am going to do whatever I can legally do to put him away,” Barretto said.
Florida AG’s office pursues investigation into Global Funding
Joseph Barretto is not alone in his complaint against Global Funding, which closed its doors in late October 2008. The Florida Attorney General’s Office told Land Line that 73 complaints have been filed with its Economic Crimes Unit (ECU) against Global Funding, with alleged damages exceeding $300,000.
The AG’s office also confirmed that the ECU is currently investigating Global Funding and Landmark Leasing, the new company Maricle started. That company was also closed in late November 2008 after the ECU received a complaint regarding Landmark’s advance-fee leasing agreement.
“We have an ongoing investigation into allegations that the company collects advanced frees from business consumers who make applications to secure lease agreement funding for the purpose of acquiring business equipment,” according to the statement Land Line received from the Florida’s AG’s office.
As of press time, phone calls and e-mails to Glenn Selig, Maricle’s public relations agent, were not returned to comment on the AG’s investigation into his companies. Land Line also called the numbers listed for Global Funding and Landmark Leasing, but both numbers were no longer in service.
The bait and switch
At first glance, Barretto said he felt that Global Funding was the answer to his prayers in providing him with the financial assistance he desperately needed to lease a second truck. The second truck’s income was to be used to help his struggling company. He already had a driver and the accounts lined up. He just needed to nail down the financing part of his plan.
He said Global Funding and Maricle gladly stepped in and offered him a deal that he couldn’t say no to – at first – because of his troubled credit history.
Barretto said within days Maricle told him that his financing was approved on the Freightliner. All he needed to do was sign on the dotted line and send Global Funding a check for $8,188.85 as an advance-fee lease deposit to “lock in the deal.”
“I sent them everything I had tucked away to get this truck – everything,” Barretto said.
Once Global Funding cashed his check, Barretto said that’s when the problems started. Suddenly Global Funding’s underwriting department found a problem with his credit, even though he supplied six months’ worth of bank statements and they knew his credit score.
He even got the co-signer he was told he needed, which Global Funding approved, but then was told he needed to find a different one. Most importantly, Barretto said he was led to believe the terms in the proposal were the final terms he agreed to upfront, which is why he sent his money in the first place.
“The original deal that Global Funding proposed to me was a fair deal. I didn’t think the interest rate and the monthly payments were outrageous considering my credit, but that’s how they lure you in,” he said. “After they got my money, they started coming up with problem after problem about why they couldn’t honor the original deal.”
By that point, Barretto said they already had his money – all of his savings. When he asked for his security deposit back, he was told by Maricle and Global Funding they were keeping his full lease deposit, which they considered “earned money,” for the work they had done on his loan.
Truck dealers ‘snowed,’ too
T.S.I. Truck Sales co-owner Jeff Orlando, who has a used-truck dealership in Lake Wales, FL, says he got snowed by Global Funding, too. The OOIDA member said he regrets his decision to recommend three of his customers to the company after talking to Michelle Turner, a Global Funding representative, in early 2008.
“I grilled her for nearly 40 minutes, and she had all the right answers,” he told Land Line Magazine in December. “I am the type of person who will ask a question one way, then will come back later and ask the question in a slightly different way to see if their answers match up. Michelle Turner’s answers matched up every time. She was good.”
Orlando said more than 90 percent of the truckers who come through his gates have bad credit issues, so as a used truck dealer he’s always on the hunt for finance companies that can get his customers’ “rougher credit stuff done.”
When he received the call from Global Funding, he thought this might be another financial resource to help put his customers in their own trucks.
“We have the attitude here that even though some of our customers may not have the A and B credit that we would like to see, they still need to work. They want a piece of the American dream, and we want to help them get it,” Orlando said.
Orlando said the truckers told him their original offers were rescinded after they sent in their lease deposits. The new offers included huge monthly payments and inflated interest rates, which he said none of them could afford.
Then when Global Funding refused to give them their money back, Orlando said his customers – such as Joe Barretto – were financially wiped out.
“These slugs count on the fact that most of these guys won’t have enough money left when they are done with them to hire an attorney to fight back,” he said.
He said it took him nearly three days to craft a letter explaining what happened to him from a truck dealer’s perspective and telling about his customers who received advance-fee leasing contracts from Global Funding.
“I had to weigh what is right here versus what might be in the best interest for my business, but I promised these guys I would do the best I could possibly do by them,” he said. “I don’t screw people over and don’t leave them hanging, so how could I not come forward?”
Since coming forward, Orlando said he has heard from countless truck dealers in Florida, Georgia and Texas who had customers who received offers from Global Funding as well.
Shining light in dark places
Since entering the used-truck sales market nine years ago, Orlando said he has seen several leasing companies like Global Funding start up with the sole purpose to “drain poor credit customers of their last bit of financial security only to be left with nothing.”
He partly blames the deregulation push in favor of big business that occurred during the Bush administration.
“What happened to Joe Barretto and others is a classic example of the flip side, or the dark side, of the commercial leasing industry,” Orlando said.
He said these commercial leasing companies can charge whatever percentage rate a customer is willing to pay because lenders aren’t required to include a stated annual percentage rate – or APR – which would require lenders to disclose up-front all fees included in the loan before it’s finalized. Instead, lease deals are considered a stated finance charge.
“You can take a calculator and quickly convert it to an APR, but these companies are not required to put it forth in that way,’ Orlando said. “All they have to do is show a stated finance charge and if customers are willing to agree to the deal, they’ve got them.”
“Just like a Jack-in-the-Box”
Jeff Orlando said he compares Jeffrey Maricle to a Jack-in-the-Box. He pops up, goes away for a while after he is found out, then pops back with a new company name somewhere else.
Although Global Funding shut down its operation in late October after Maricle was found guilty of fraud in a civil suit, Maricle opened another commercial leasing company just two days later. Landmark Leasing LLC in Dunedin, FL, was opened in the same county, Pinellas County, less than five miles from where his other office was located.
The Florida Attorney General’s Office confirmed for Land Line in December that it is already investigating Maricle’s latest leasing company as well.
The statement indicated that both companies controlled by Maricle – Landmark and Global Funding LLC – bore “remarkable” similarities.
Barretto is realistic that he probably won’t get his money back, but he is hopeful his story will attract the attention of state and federal lawmakers about the need for oversight in the commercial leasing industry.
“This oversight is needed to make sure others don’t fall into these scam artists’ trap,” he said. LL