Three former executives of a lucrative payday loan operation owned by Montana's Chippewa Cree Tribe received secret payments through a management company hired to run the online lending business, according to a $13.1 million lawsuit filed by the tribe.
Neal Rosette, Billi Anne Morsette and James Eastlick Jr., former executives at Plain Green Loans and members of the tribe, received the payments from management company Encore Services LLC, based in Henderson, Nev. Plain Green was one of two online lending companies owned by the Chippewa Cree, according to an arbitration order attached to the lawsuit.
Encore paid Rosette and Morsette 5% of Plain Green's gross revenues from 2011 to 2013. Eastlick, the former tribal health director, received a share of that money plus another 2% of revenues. The payments were hidden from the rest of the tribe by funneling the money to consulting companies owned by the three executives and not disclosing them in Encore's fee agreement, the arbitrator in the case ruled in July. Rosette and Morsette owned Ideal Consulting and Eastlick owned Trio Consulting.
Plain Green has made $25 million since 2011. Encore had an agreement to receive 15% of Plain Green's gross revenues. The hidden money was provided to the consulting companies from that 15% share, according to the lawsuit.
Rosette said he and Morsette did not ask for the payments and that they were part of a compensation package offered by the company's board of directors. The board offered to pay the 5% of revenues because Rosette and Morsette had opened the consulting businesses that the board feared would allow other tribes to open lending companies and compete with Plain Green's business, Rosette said.
Rosette compared it to retention plans offered to executives in the corporate world, adding he thought he would receive much less than he did.
The tribe originally sought $13.1 million from Encore, which amounted to the full amount Encore allegedly took from Plain Green plus what the tribe claims was siphoned from First American Capital Resources, a separate online lending company set up and managed for the tribe starting in 2010.
The tribe claimed Encore's owners didn't deliver on promised investments, mismanaged the company and awarded contracts to shell companies that performed no services. But on July 31, the arbitrator ruled the tribe was owed just $1.1 million, the total money apparently passed on from Encore to the tribal members. The tribe's other claims were denied.
The arbitrator also voided Encore's fee agreement with Chippewa Cree after ruling the management company was aware that terms were meant to conceal the facts and deceive tribal members who might have objected.
The lawsuit names Encore and its owners as defendants, but not Rosette, Morsette or Eastlick. Rosette resigned from Plain Green in January 2012, but kept getting the payments until August 2013 as part of a severance agreement.
Rosette is now suing the tribe, Encore and another Plain Green partner, Think Finance, in tribal court to resume the payments. Eastlick will be sentenced this month after pleading guilty in May to bribery and theft in separate criminal cases involving kickbacks to tribal leaders.
Plain Green has been a healthy business for the tribe located on the Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation in northern Montana. The company charges borrowers annualized interest rates of up to 379%, and the tribe's status as a sovereign nation allows it to ignore a Montana law that caps interest rates of 36%.