WEB SPECIAL: Easy money? The sequel

| 4/22/2002

Since the first report on Commercial Money Center Inc., Growth 1 Funding Corp. and other advance fee loan companies (Dec/Jan, Land Line), three OOIDA members - Johnnie L. Banner, Steven D. Long Sr. and Lonnie Byers - received refunds from Growth 1 and Funder Direct. However, more small-business truckers have reported losing thousands to this new breed of loan sharks who promised equipment financing, took their money and gave them nothing but excuses.

OOIDA member Lawrence E. McCafferty of Fernley, NV, is still waiting for his $2,573 refund from Growth 1 for a failed truck financing deal. OOIDA member Maxie McIntosh of Perris, CA, also paid $2,573 to Growth 1 on April 3, 2001, but the finance company never came through with the funding. Roxanna Munoz, senior underwriter for Growth 1, has agreed to look into refunds for McIntosh and McCafferty. Based in San Diego, CA, Growth 1 is owned by Dane Moore, but most owner-operators report dealing with Munoz.

At least five owner-operators reported problems with Commercial Money Center, headquartered in Las Vegas with an office in Escondido, CA. Burrell L. Lee Jr., OOIDA member from Radcliff, KY, gave CMC $5,194.53 in advanced payments plus $220 for processing fees and $175 for a Quicktrak inspection on May 8, 2001, to finance a truck. For his money, he received no financing, no equipment and no refund. The same rings true for owner-operator Dane Stieben, of Colby, KS, who paid $5,840 to CMC; Phil and Victoria Stone, of Nortonville, KY, paid $4,520.56 to finance a trailer with CMC; and Galloway Transport, of Grandville, GA, who reported to the Federal Trade Commission it paid $2,000 to CMC for financing.

Senitteau Norton of Boulderick Farms and Norton Refrigeration financed three trucks through CMC, and then some refrigerated trailers in October 2000. To finance the trailers, Norton paid $4,787.26 in advanced payments plus a $220 processing fee and $175 for a Quiktrak inspection. Soon after she picked up the trailers and had them licensed, the dealership repossessed them because CMC never paid for the equipment. Since the financing fell through on the trailers, she asked CMC to apply the trailer down payment toward her truck payments, but CMC refused. With no trailers to go with their trucks, Norton's company could not earn enough money to pay for the trucks and eventually lost them, too.

These owner-operators may have lost up to $5,000 each to CMC, but OOIDA members Darren Purrier of Las Vegas, Henry Brown of Phoenix, AZ, and Patricia Breeden of Stafford, VA, are paying CMC's 48-50 percent interest rates. Purrier says when he confronted CMC about the high interest rates, he was told the rates were completely legal because it was a lease, not a loan.

Purrier says recent major repair work has made it difficult to keep up with the lease payments. When the Purriers tried to get a deferment, a CMC representative told them they must miss the payment before CMC would send them deferment paperwork. However, the rep didn't tell the Purriers about the more than $300 in fees they were charged for the deferment.

Brown says the truck he received is not the one described on his paperwork and he still can't get a legal title for the truck.

Munoz says CMC is out of business. Attempts to confirm this information were met with a full voice mailbox at CMC's California office and a know-nothing receptionist at the Las Vegas headquarters, where company execs were unavailable for comment. The receptionist deferred all questions to a Mr. Gwarder (correct spelling not given), who was in a deposition April 4. However, a representative at U.S. Bancorp, who now services CMC's lease contracts, did say the California office is closed, but the Las Vegas office currently is open.

Although CMC and Growth 1 received the most complaints from owner-operators, a few other companies each received one complaint. Of those, Commercial Leasing of Louisiana, an agent of Florida-based company International Corporate Finance Ltd., took the most money from one individual. Marti Wright of South Star Transport in El Paso, TX, paid Commercial Leasing more than $20,000 to finance three new trucks, which were repossessed about a month after delivery because the finance company never paid the dealer. Telephone numbers for Commercial Leasing are disconnected.

All complaints were forwarded to the Federal Trade Commission; the appropriate state's attorney general and a private attorney for review. Some owner-operators have sought help from district attorneys in the counties where these companies operate.

If you have experienced similar problems, make an official report to the FTC at 1-877-382-4357 and the attorney general in your state and the state where the company is located. Your attorney general's office should be listed in the government pages of your local telephone directory.

When a consumer calls these agencies, they usually will send the consumer a complaint form. It is very important to follow through with the complaint by filling out the necessary forms and returning them to the appropriate agencies along with copies (not originals) of all relevant documents. As with any business transaction, keep copies of all contracts, invoices, receipts and correspondence, including any complaint forms filed with various agencies.

--Rene Tankersley, feature editor