Friday, April 27, 2018
Business

Judge orders Tampa Bay payday lender closed as FTC alleges fraud

A federal judge ordered a Tampa Bay area-based payday lending operation closed after its owners allegedly stole more than $5 million from tens of thousands of unwitting victims, authorities announced Wednesday.

In a civil lawsuit, the Federal Trade Commission accuses Odafe Stephen Ogaga, 29, of Clearwater and Sean C. Mulrooney, 23, formerly of Clearwater Beach, of using their five companies and multiple websites to collect consumers' names, Social Security numbers and banking information to pilfer funds from their accounts.

According to the FTC, the men used the money to support a lavish lifestyle that included high-end luxury cars. Mulrooney is the registered owner of a 2012 Maserati GranTurismo, while Ogaga owns a 2011 Rolls-Royce Ghost and a 2006 Ferrari F430, according to documents filed in the case.

Ogaga and Mulrooney operated websites under the names Vantage Funding, Ideal Advance, Loan Assistance Company, Palm Loan Advances, Loan Tree Advances, Pacific Advances and Your Loan Funding.

James Davis, an attorney in Illinois with the FTC, which received nearly 1,300 complaints, said the two men ran their operation at times from a downtown Tampa office and more recently from their homes.

Mulrooney and Ogaga's operation involves what the FTC called "a phony online payday loan broker." The FTC said the operation promised to get payday loans for consumers but instead used the financial information they provided to debit their accounts.

On Aug. 29, a federal judge in Illinois issued a temporary restraining order against Ogaga and Mulrooney, which forced the operation to close and froze the men's assets pending litigation.

"We're going to be seeking redress for consumers," Davis said. The FTC also is seeking an order "that prohibits these defendants from engaging in this behavior ever again."

Reached on his cellphone, Ogaga declined to comment and referred the matter to his attorney. Messages left for his attorney were not returned.

Ogaga has been arrested six times since 1997, according to Florida Department of Law Enforcement records. As an adult, Ogaga was charged with robbery, battery and petty theft. The robbery and battery charges were later dropped, but he pleaded guilty to the petty theft charge and was ordered to perform community service.

Davis said Mulrooney moved from his home in Clearwater Beach to Delaware. Voice messages left at Mulrooney's Delaware address were not returned. Mulrooney has no criminal record in Florida.

Ivan Penn can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2332.

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