KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A Prairie Village, Kansas, man was sentenced in federal court today for engaging in two separate fraud schemes related to millions of dollars in false payday loan debt and for tax evasion totaling more than $8 million.
“After raking in millions of dollars from the victims of his fraud scheme, the defendant lied repeatedly and used every trick in the book to hide his ill-gotten gain from the IRS,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Teresa A. Moore. “He spent lavishly on jet travel and luxury cars, but hasn’t voluntarily paid a dime in taxes owed for more than a decade. Adding insult to injury, he even fraudulently obtained a Paycheck Protection Program loan from the government after working for so many years to cheat U.S. taxpayers.”
Joel Jerome Tucker, 52, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Roseann Ketchmark to 12 years and six months in federal prison without parole. The court also ordered Tucker to pay $8,057,079 in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service, and to forfeit to the government $5,000, which is the amount of stolen proceeds transferred across state lines as referenced in the specific count to which he pleaded guilty.
FBI Acting Special Agent in Charge Michael E. Hensle stated, “Tucker defrauded hundreds of thousands of innocent victims and the U.S. government for his own personal gain. While most people strive to earn an honest living and live the American dream, Tucker chose to live a lavish lifestyle at the cost of working Americans. The FBI will continue to pursue and bring to justice those individuals who take advantage of others for profit and believe they are above the law.”
“Tucker used the proceeds of his criminal activity to live a lavish lifestyle and defraud the American people. His sentencing shows the courts take tax and related fraud schemes seriously,” said Amanda Prestegard, Acting Special Agent in Charge of IRS-Criminal Investigation’s St. Louis Field Office. “IRS-CI aggressively investigates and uncovers complex financial crimes to disrupt criminal activity impacting the U.S. tax system.”
Tucker, working through various companies, serviced payday loan businesses. Tucker’s company names changed over the years; the primary company was eData Solutions, LLC. eData, formally registered on July 29, 2009, did not make loans directly to borrowers; it collected loan application information, referred to as leads, and sold those leads to its approximately 70 payday lender clients. As a loan servicer, eData also provided software for payday lenders.
Tucker and the other owners of eData sold the company to the Wyandotte Indian tribe in 2012. However, despite selling his interest in eData, Tucker maintained a file of 7.8 million leads he had acquired through eData, containing detailed customer information (including names, addresses, bank accounts, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, etc.). eData had collected the detailed customer information from online payday loan applications or inquiries to its payday lender clients; the file did not represent loans that were made. In addition, Tucker obtained and retained data regarding defaulted payday loans eData had acquired from a number of different payday lender clients. Tucker used these files to create falsified debt portfolios.
On July 16, 2020, Tucker pleaded guilty to one count of transporting stolen money across state lines as part of the debt fraud scheme, one count of bankruptcy fraud, and one count of tax evasion. The government also alleged in court filings that Tucker engaged in another fraud scheme that was not charged as part of this case, by fraudulently receiving funds under the Payroll Protection Program.
Debt Fraud Scheme
Tucker admitted that he engaged in a fraudulent debt scheme from 2014 to 2016. This scheme involved marketing, distributing, and selling false debt portfolios. Tucker defrauded third party debt collectors and millions of individuals listed as debtors through the sale of falsified debt portfolios. Tucker sold supposed debts which: 1) he didn’t personally own; 2) were not true debts; 3) had already been sold to other buyers; and 4) contained false lenders, false loan dates, false loan amounts, and false payment status. Some of the “debtors” had only applied for a loan but never received one, either because they withdrew their application or because the loan was not funded. Some of the listed debtors, however, actually paid the debt collectors out of fear or confusion of what they owed. Tucker received as much as $7.3 million from the sale of false debt portfolios in just two years, from early 2014 to early 2016.
As part of his fraud scheme, Tucker transferred the proceeds of the fraud scheme across state lines.
Bankruptcy Fraud Scheme
Tucker also admitted that he executed a related bankruptcy fraud scheme in 2015 and 2016. In his bankruptcy fraud scheme, Tucker also sold fraudulent debt, which entered the United States Bankruptcy Courts nationwide. When the United States Bankruptcy Court investigated these purported debts, which were presented as claims in bankruptcy cases, Tucker repeatedly lied under oath by providing false information and testimony to the Bankruptcy Court in order to conceal his scheme.
On April 15, 2014, the United States Tax Court entered a decision that Tucker owed tax deficiencies from 2007 and 2008. The total amount owed in 2014 with interest and penalties was $8,057,079.95. For tax years 2014 – 2016, neither Tucker personally nor any of his companies filed federal tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service. According to court documents, Tucker now owes approximately $12 million in taxes, interest, and penalties for 2007 through 2014. According to court documents, Tucker has never made any voluntary payments toward his tax debt.
Tucker told IRS agents that he had no income and was living on borrowed money, including a lot of borrowed money from his mother. In reality, bank accounts showed Tucker sent money to his mother rather than borrowing money from her. Tucker used nominee bank accounts to conceal income and assets and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in personal living expenses such as vehicles, chartered jets, travel and entertainment, and a personal residence.
For example, Tucker leased a $1.59 million home in Prairie Village, bought a $105,367 Cadillac Escalade, spent $226,000 for private charter jet services, spent more than $75,000 to lease a Porsche and a Ferrari, spent $17,536 at The Arrabelle, a luxury hotel in Vail, Colorado, made $50,000 in payments to Vail Mountain Club, paid a total of $682,437 in payments to American Express, and made cash withdrawals totaling almost $200,000.
Paycheck Protection Program Fraud
According to court documents, a month before entering a guilty plea to financial crimes, Tucker fraudulently obtained a PPP loan by denying that he was under indictment.
Tucker submitted a loan application to the Small Business Administration for a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan on June 13, 2020. Tucker was originally indicted June 5, 2018. A superseding indictment was returned May 21, 2019. Thus, Tucker had been under federal indictment for two years at the time he completed the PPP loan application. Question 5 of the application asked, “Is the Applicant (if an individual)…subject to an indictment, criminal information, arraignment, or other means by which formal criminal charges are brought in any jurisdiction, or presently incarcerated, or on probation or parole?” Immediately prior to this question, the loan application document notes that “If questions (5) or (6) are answered ‘Yes,’ the loan will not be approved.” (emphasis original). Tucker answered no, and electronically signed the application.
Due to Tucker’s false attestation, his loan request for $20,833 was approved and he received the funds on June 16, 2020.
Although Tucker has not been criminally charged in relation to the fraudulent loan, the court considered those actions as relevant behavior in determining today’s sentence.
This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kathleen D. Mahoney and Patrick D. Daly. It was investigated by the FBI, IRS-Criminal Investigation, and the U.S. Bankruptcy Trustee in the Southern District of Texas.
COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force
On May 17, 2021, the Attorney General established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force to marshal the resources of the Department of Justice in partnership with agencies across government to enhance efforts to combat and prevent pandemic-related fraud. The Task Force bolsters efforts to investigate and prosecute the most culpable domestic and international criminal actors and assists agencies tasked with administering relief programs to prevent fraud by, among other methods, augmenting and incorporating existing coordination mechanisms, identifying resources and techniques to uncover fraudulent actors and their schemes, and sharing and harnessing information and insights gained from prior enforcement efforts. For more information on the Department’s response to the pandemic, please visit https://www.justice.gov/coronavirus.
Anyone with information about allegations of attempted fraud involving COVID-19 can report it by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) Hotline at 866-720-5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form at: https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.