A Los Angeles judge has levied a $200,000 civil fine and imposed numerous restrictions on a loan broker who prosecutors say defrauded hundreds of Southern California residents over the last two decades.
Frederick Tucker allegedly conned hundreds of people into believing they were part of a government loan program for low-income home buyers, then charged them up to $3,000 in fees, according to court documents and testimony.
State regulators said a lack of investigators and the weakness of existing laws kept them from prosecuting Tucker and his First Federal Credit Corp. The state, instead, filed a civil suit against Tucker, his company and associate Ida Lee Hansen.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Judith Meisels Ashmann issued a wide-ranging ruling on June 22 that prosecutors say will finally halt Tucker. The ruling includes a ban on Tucker's using a business name that implies an association with a government agency.
To continue his loan business, Tucker will have to obtain licenses from the same government agencies that suspected him of fraud.
"This ruling will stop the deceptive practices once and for all," said Thomas Papageorge, head of the Los Angeles district attorney's consumer protection division. "Unless he obtains a real estate broker's license, he cannot run these kinds of businesses."
Tucker's attorney, Larry Lieberman, said Tucker would not comment on the ruling, which he plans to appeal. Tucker had testified in the past that he legitimately arranged affordable loans.
Some authorities do not share prosecutors' confidence that the ruling will put an end to Tucker's alleged scams. In the past, Tucker has shut down several of his loan companies when they were targeted by the state Department of Real Estate, only to reopen them at the same Beverly Hills and Torrance addresses under different names.
Papageorge said he is sure that the ruling will work. "In our experience, businesses respond to permanent injunctions," he said.
According to documents and trial testimony, Tucker's companies blanket low-income neighborhoods with "public notice" mailings that carry logos and fictitious Washington, D.C., addresses that make them look like official government letters.
The letters make it appear as though the government has selected the recipient's neighborhood for a special loan program that could be administered by First Federal Credit Corp. Those who responded to the letters were visited by a First Federal representative, who brought loan applications and collected a $160 fee from the prospective borrower.
Court documents allege that those who obtained loans were often charged higher interest rates and monthly payments than promised. Borrowers were required to pay thousands of dollars in fees if they canceled their loans.
Clients testified that Tucker reported them as deadbeats to credit-reporting agencies when they balked at taking the loans or paying the fees.
According to his testimony, Tucker said his customers were charged higher rates for not reporting credit problems during initial meetings. He also said most of the fees and cancellation charges covered such expenses as appraisals and credit reports.
The judge's ruling is intended to close a loophole that has enabled Tucker to operate his business without a license. California law allows people without licenses to employ licensed brokers to handle the type of loans Tucker arranged.
Tucker has run his businesses with such hired brokers, but is no longer allowed to do so. The judge's ruling requires that he personally obtain a license, according to authorities.
The Real Estate Department revoked Tucker's real estate license in 1976, a year after he was convicted of a federal felony for making false statements to a government agency in connection with obtaining a fraudulent loan in Los Angeles.