SPECIAL REPORT: Easy money? Not so easy for Legacy Leasing

| 3/10/2003

An advance-fee finance company that owner-operators say took advantage of them is feeling the heat of an investigation after the Nevada Attorney General's Office and local police secured the company's offices and files last week.

The Las Vegas Metro Police Department executed a search warrant Wednesday, March 5, on Legacy Leasing, also known as The Funding Tree, according to Debra Bryant, an office worker at the police department. She said police secured the premises in preparation for investigators from the Attorney General's Office, who arrived the following day.

Neil Rombardo, deputy attorney general in Nevada, confirmed a search warrant was issued for Legacy Leasing's office suite, two vehicles and a residence.

Although the company did business under the name Legacy Leasing, it is registered with the Nevada Secretary of State's Office as The Funding Tree, an advance-fee finance company formerly located in California.

Last year, Land Line reported owner-operator complaints about The Funding Tree after OOIDA members reported paying advanced fees and payments to the company for financing that never materialized.

After the California Department of Corporations last year ordered The Funding Tree to stop making loans without a lending license, the company's former president, Kendra Bernal, was arrested. The company's then-vice president, Bruce Peterik, announced he would be president.

Last month, Land Line learned that The Funding Tree had resurfaced in Laughlin, NV, as Legacy Leasing. Through information from former Legacy Leasing employees, Land Line learned OOIDA members had paid money to the company for advance fee and payments on truck financing that never materialized.

One member, Larry Hargrove of Las Vegas, says he paid Legacy Leasing $4,000 in November. After three months of empty promises, Hargrove showed up at Legacy Leasing one afternoon last month demanding his money back.

Hargrove said police handcuffed him after the company accused him of threatening them. Hargrove says police released him on the spot after his wife showed them their finance agreement from Legacy Leasing.

Hargrove wasn't the first OOIDA member to show up at Legacy Leasing's offices. Kenny Farrington, also from Las Vegas, says he paid the company $3,200 in December.

Last month, Farrington and Bob Groves, an Oregon truck dealer who was also waiting for money from Legacy Leasing, went to the company's office and demanded their money. Groves said they left empty-handed after office personnel threatened to call police.

Donna and Gerald Branscom from Turon, KS, say they paid more than $7,000 to Legacy Leasing to finance a new truck. As with other members, the Branscoms say financing was always just a day away - or at least that's what Legacy Leasing had told them for the past three months.

For the Branscoms, the news of Legacy Leasing's demise is bittersweet. They are still without their money or their truck. Because they sold their old truck to get the $7,000 downpayment, the Branscoms were left with no financing and no truck.

Fortunately, Gerald's carrier leased him a truck so he could keep running until he can buy another truck.

"We figured that new truck would have been our last truck until retirement," Donna said. "They put us out of work. They took away our dream. We could have lost everything."

--by Rene Tankersley, feature editor