As a young recent college grad with a marketing degree, I had a dream to work for a race team. I had sent out hundreds upon hundreds of resumes via email and snail mail, made personal business cards and bought extra paddock passes so I could wander around and make as many contacts with team principals or marketing professionals as I could, and I even got up at 2am to take a one-day road trip to Indianapolis so I could hand-deliver resumes to IndyCar race shops and talk to whoever would take a couple of minutes to listen. So working in motorsports was the only thing on my mind when I went to Road Atlanta in the fall of 2012.
My co-host and serial Deep Thinker Tristan, his dad, and I took a trip to Petit Le Mans, the season finale for the American Le Mans Series (now IMSA Weathertech Sportscar Championship). One of the best parts of these races, as we’ve mentioned on the podcast, is the grid walk. Fans can walk the pit lane right before the command to start engines and get a close-up look at the drivers, teams and machines that are about to hit the track. Armed with a stack of business cards and a memorized personal sales pitch, I set off down the Road Atlanta pit lane. One of the people I ran into and chatted with was a man named Scott Tucker, owner and co-driver for the Level 5 Motorsports prototype team. Level 5 was a championship-caliber team and Mr. Tucker was a very pleasant person to talk with. He took my card, wrote notes on the back so he could remember where we met, and passed the card to another team member for further review. A few weeks later, in the off season, I followed up with a visit to the team’s facility in Madison, WI. See, not only was this team a championship level organization, they were based about an hour from where I grew up. Plus, Scott was one of those “gentleman drivers” who's racing was a passion project, not what they did for a living. I was gunning for chance to work for a person that had the desire, work ethic, and finances to turn a hobby into a top tier racing program which rivaled Penske in terms of equipment, presentation, and talent, both on track and off. Names like IMSA champ Ryan Briscoe and IndyCar stalwarts Simon Pagenaud, Townsend Bell and Ryan Hunter-Reay have all sat in a Level 5 Motorsports seat at one time or another. I was desperate for that opportunity. That is until I, and the rest of the world, found out how Scott Tucker made his fortune.
In 2001, Scott Tucker and his brother co-founded AMG Services, an online payday loan service. He was one of the first in that industry to harness the power of the internet, so business grew quickly, eventually becoming a company of 600 employees and earning him over $400 million. As he started making more, he began pursuing his passion for racing more seriously, climbing the ranks through SCCA, Ferrari Challenge and eventually the Grand-Am series and American Le Mans Series, naming his team Level 5 Motorsports. But Tucker’s massive fortune was tainted, in a big way. You see, Tucker’s group made their bones preying off of desperate people using loan contracts that were hard to follow and purposely written poorly. When a customer went to one of Tucker’s many payday loan brands (500FastCash, Advantage Cash Services, Ameriloan, OneClickCash, Star Cash Processing, UnitedCashLoans or USFastCash to name a few), what they thought was a minimum payment was actually a loan renewal payment. All they were doing was paying to extend the terms of the loan, which would incur finance charges, and their principal payment hadn’t been touched. On top of that, when the loan was extended, an interest rate of up to 700% was applied. Quick example…for a simple $300 loan, customers would pay up to $585 in finance charges before they even touched the original $300 principal! This kind of deception is highly illegal, but in an attempt to work around the system, AMG Services claimed affiliation with Native American tribes and reservations to avoid state lending laws. Reservations are considered sovereign nations and are immune from most state and some federal laws, and AMG would give the tribes a cut of the profits and employ residents of the often impoverished reservations in exchange for letting them operate there. Even though AMG Services was located in Overland Park, Kansas, call center employees were instructed to say they were located in Oklahoma, Nebraska or the Dakotas if they were asked by customers. Managers even sent out weather reports from those areas to cover their tracks in case a disgruntled customer wanted to dig deeper with the call center rep.
It wouldn’t be long before the FTC got wise to what was going on. In April 2012, they filed a civil suit against AMG Services citing “illegal business tactics.” Less than 2 years later, a U.S. grand jury filed a subpoena against the company regarding wire fraud, money laundering and racketeering. Of course, Tucker maintained his innocence, but he was arrested in February 2016 and in September of that year he and other defendants were ordered to pay a $1.266 billion judgement. Scott and his attorney were convicted of 14 counts of wire fraud, money laundering, racketeering and Truth In Lending Act violations. On top of all that, in December of 2017, Tucker was indicted for filing false tax returns. Apparently, he failed to report earnings of $117.5 million in 2009 and 2010. Scott was sentenced to a 16 year, 8 month prison sentence for his crimes and the FTC announced this past December that they were returning $505 million to his victims, the largest payout in the history of the agency…and I could have worked for that guy! Him! Scott Tucker, Douchebag Extraordinaire! In my defense, and I’m guessing the defense of most who worked for the race team, I wasn’t aware of how he made his money. I mean, I knew he was a businessman but until all this went public, I never knew any of this. I’m sure the mechanics, truck drivers, engineers, PR people etc. saw their deposits every two weeks and went about their work.
Even though I didn’t get the job, I always still pulled for the Level 5 guys. You can ask my two co-hosts, I used to wear a Level 5 team shirt to the races we went to. I was always cheering for the local team, especially when they went overseas to race in the the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans. It’s crazy to think of what was happening behind this overachieving underdog team. Hearing about this peaked my curiosity, and this story isn’t the only example of folks funding their motorsports dreams using “questionable” means (stay tuned for an episode later this year). Looking back now, it’s funny how things turned out after that meeting on the grid in October 2012: At the time, I was bummed I never got that marketing job for Level 5 Motorsports, but here I am now with a job that I enjoy, writing a blog for a podcast that has become my favorite pastime, while Scott Tucker is inmate number 06133-045, scheduled for release on June 27, 2032.