SPECIAL REPORT: Easy money? Funding Tree apparently takes root in Nevada

| 2/11/2003

"The report of my death has been greatly exaggerated." Mark Twain said it in 1896, but it could be said today about The Funding Tree, a finance and leasing company.

Although the company's former president, Kendra Bernal, was arrested last year in California, the company appears to have resurfaced in Nevada under the name Legacy Leasing.

OOIDA member Larry Hargrove of Las Vegas, NV, says he paid $4,000 in advance payments and document fees to Legacy Leasing in November. As of today, Hargrove says he still has no truck and no sign of his $4,000.

Another trucker, Kenneth Farrington III, says he gave Legacy Leasing $3,200 on Dec. 18, 2002, with promises of a truck by the New Year. Farrington and his dealer, Bob Gordon, even showed up at Legacy's office in Laughlin, NV, in early February to get their money. They said they were told that they could be helped only by a man named Jack Thompson, and that he was out of the office.

Land Line first became aware of The Funding Tree in January 2002 after two OOIDA members read Land Line's report in December 2001 about advance-fee finance companies.

The two called in complaints about The Funding Tree, Integrity Group and Integrity Funding, which Land Line later learned were all names used by Bernal's business.

Kit Menkin, editor and publisher of Leasing News, an electronic daily newspaper for the equipment leasing industry, has written about The Funding Tree for some time. He said the company was the subject of a cease and refrain order issued by the California Department of Corporations in January 2002.

The order warned Bernal and her companies to stop engaging in the business of finance lending or brokering without a license, saying doing so would be a violation of the California Finance Lenders Law.

Bernal was arrested May 31 in Riverside County, CA, and charged with six felony counts related to the financing of commercial vehicles and other equipment, according to the Riverside District Attorney's Office.

Following Bernal's arrest, The Funding Tree's vice president, Bruce Peterik, took over as president.

Peterik is now listed as the contact for Legacy Leasing in the Laughlin Chamber of Commerce Membership Directory.

However, the Nevada Secretary of State's Office says its records show The Funding Tree registered at the same address in Laughlin as Legacy Leasing, with Peterik listed as the contact.

Farrington and his wife, Patricia, say a person identifying himself as Jack Thompson told them he was the owner of Legacy Leasing.

In addition, a message at the Funding Tree's former California phone number directs callers to an office in Laughlin, NV, and a woman at the Legacy Leasing office says the company was formerly called The Funding Tree. Peterik was not available for comment. A receptionist at the company said Jack Thompson was also unavailable.

Marcie Whitehead, who identifies herself as a former employee of Legacy Leasing, said the name Jack Thompson was an alias used by Peterik.

Neil Rombardo, deputy attorney general for Nevada, told Land Line the AG's office would investigate the company. The Attorney General's Fraud Unit Hotline can be reached at 1-800-266-8688.

--by Rene Tankersley, feature editor