By Nate Raymond
(Reuters) - A Pennsylvania man considered a pioneer in the payday lending industry was found guilty on Monday of engaging in a racketeering scheme that helped fund businesses that generated $688 million from short-term loans to hundreds of thousands of people.
Charles Hallinan, who prosecutors said owned and operated more than a dozen payday lending businesses, was found guilty by a federal jury in Philadelphia on all counts he faced.
Jurors convicted Hallinan, 76, along with Wheeler Neff, a 69-year-old Delaware lawyer who was likewise found guilty on charges including racketeering conspiracy, mail fraud and wire fraud, prosecutors said.
Both men are scheduled for sentencing in April and plan to appeal, said Christopher Warren, a lawyer for Neff.
"They both believed at all times they were acting in good faith and are bitterly disappointed the jury saw it differently," Warren said.
Hallinan's lawyer did not respond to requests for comment.
The charges were filed in 2016 during a U.S. crackdown on abusive practices by payday lenders.
Such companies say they help struggling consumers by offering small loans that borrowers agree to repay in a short time, often from their next paycheck.
Critics say the loans carry high costs and can trap borrowers in an endless debt cycle. More than a dozen states and the District of Columbia prohibit payday lending.
A Manhattan jury in October convicted race car driver Scott Tucker, who previously worked with Hallinan and was accused of running a $3.5 billion illegal online payday lending enterprise.
Prosecutors said Hallinan operated payday lending companies with names like Easy Cash, Apex 1 Processing and Payday Loan Direct and directed some to charge fees that resulted in annual interest rates of 780 percent.
Prosecutors said Hallinan and Neff conspired to evade state laws criminalizing such loans by paying three native tribes to pretend they were the actual lenders in order to claim sovereign immunity.
The pair was indicted with Randall Ginger, a Canadian who was a hereditary chief of the Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation in British Columbia. He has not appeared in U.S. court and could not be reached for comment.
During a class action against by Indiana borrowers against Apex 1 Processing, Hallinan offered to pay Ginger to claim that he was the sole owner of the company, prosecutors said.
The case was settled for $260,000, compared with the $10 million the lawsuit could be worth, prosecutors said.
(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)