Finance company operator arrested

| 6/14/2002

The president of an advance-fee finance company has been arrested on seven felony counts. Kendra Bernal, of The Funding Tree (not to be confused with The Lending Tree) and Integrity Group, was arrested May 31 in Riverside County, CA. Under the two company names, Bernal offered financing of commercial vehicles and other equipment.

Bernal faces six felony counts of taking money and personal property of a value exceeding $400 and one count of engaging in the business of a finance lender and broker without obtaining a license from the Department of Corporations.

The complaint alleges Bernal operated without a license from September 2001 through May 30, 2002, and "took, damaged and destroyed property of a value exceeding $150,000." The complaint listed money and property taken from Freedom International, Luis Ojeda, Joe Diaz, Fernando Hernandez, Diversified Sales and Service Corp., and Jose Martinez.

Finally, the complaint noted a violation of probation had been filed based on these allegations. Bernal was serving a 60-month probation, which prohibited her from receiving or accepting any type of money on behalf of her employer, and from purchasing, selling, registering, transferring, leasing or renting a vehicle without prior permission of the probation officer.

The latest charges came five months after the California Department of Corporations issued a desist and refrain order in January. The order warned Bernal and her companies to stop engaging in business as finance lenders or brokers without a license in violation of the California Finance Lenders Law. The same month, Land Line became aware of Bernal, after two OOIDA members read Land Line's report about advance fee finance companies and called in their complaints about Bernal.

OOIDA member Donny McCain paid The Funding Tree a $2,000 deposit Sept. 9, 2001, at the Great American Trucking Show in Dallas, for trailer financing. McCain never received the promised financing, but REB Express, the company where he was leased, put up the remaining $9,707 for the trailer.

OOIDA member Robert Kovalcin paid Integrity Group $8,795 in December 2001 for a down payment and fees for truck financing that never came through. After months of telephone calls and complaints, Kovalcin finally received $8,400 of his money back last month.
-- Rene Tankersley