Predatory Lending & ZocaLoans: Our Fight for Consumer Rights

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For years, unscrupulous operators of high interest lending websites have tried to evade liability for making illegal loans by cloaking their lending operations in tribal law. A case in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois presents an opportunity for those harmed by these predatory lenders to receive compensation. 

Have you received a predatory loan from ZocaLoans or Minto Money? Call Wallace Miller at 312-697-1906 to discuss your options. In a free and confidential consultation, we’ll work with you to find out what’s going on and determine whether you have a case. 

The shady practices of predatory lenders

The practice of predatory lending involves offering short-term loans at astronomically high interest rates, often in the triple digits. Operators of these high-cost loans take advantage of people in dire financial situations who urgently need money. These individuals are often unable to pay off the first loan and are forced to take out additional loans to keep from defaulting, leading to a never-ending cycle of debt. Meanwhile, payday loan companies rake in huge profits. 

Many states have passed laws designed to stop these unfair lending practices by imposing a cap on the interest rates laid out in the loan terms for consumers and prohibiting lenders from offering credit at rates that exceed the rate cap. Predatory lending businesses have sought to evade these laws through various means, some dubiously legal and others, like ZocaLoans, plainly illegal. 

Holding predatory lenders accountable

In 2020 and 2021, a lending operation called ZocaLoans made four high-interest, short-term payday loans to Illinois resident Eido Al-Nahhas. All the loans had interest rates greater than 500 percent, and one had an interest rate exceeding 690 percent. Tens of thousands of similar loans have been made to Illinois consumers. 

When the fourth loan came due, Al-Nahhas reached out to attorney Matthew J. Goldstein about the astronomically high interest rates. The attorney confirmed what Al-Nahhas had suspected: the loans made by ZocaLoans were illegal, and void under Illinois law. 

Understanding usury laws in Illinois

Loans made by ZocaLoans are illegal in the State of Illinois. Period.  

In an effort to protect consumers from usurious loans (or loans made at unreasonably high interest rates) the Illinois General Assembly passed the Illinois Predatory Loan Prevention Act (PLPA) in 2021. The PLPA is designed to stamp out predatory loans and protect borrowers by prohibiting a lender from making a loan to an Illinois resident at an interest rate higher than 36 percent. 

Any loan made in violation of the PLPA is null and void, and no person or entity has any right to collect, attempt to collect, receive, or retain any money from the borrower related to such loan. In other words, if a lender collects money from a consumer on an illegal loan, they must give the consumer their money back. 

Loans made by an unlicensed lender—like ZocaLoans—to an Illinois resident at an interest rate greater than nine percent also violate the Illinois Interest Act, which allows a consumer to recover statutory damages of twice the interest contracted for—a serious penalty. Illinois means business when it comes to protecting its citizens from usurious loans:  it is a felony for an unlicensed lender to make a loan at an interest rate exceeding 20 percent. The interest rates on loans made by ZocaLoans all exceed 500 percent, and ZocaLoans is not licensed by the State of Illinois. 

Who runs ZocaLoans?

While ZocaLoans claims to do business on the lands of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, Al-Nahhas and his attorneys discovered that the lender actually operates out of Florida. The entity behind the operation is 777 Partners, LLC, a Miami-based private equity firm with no tribal connections whatsoever. 

777 Partners and its subsidiaries and investors are responsible for all substantive aspects of the ZocaLoans lending operation—funding, marketing, loan origination, servicing, electronic funds transfers, and collections—and have made tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars from the high-interest loans. 777 Partners then uses this money to finance big purchases (including, recently, full ownership of an Italian sports team). 

Other allegations of unlawful business practices by 777 Partners

Originally founded in 2015 by Joshua Wander and Steven Pasko, 777 Partners controls a sprawling variety of subsidiary businesses in addition to ZocaLoans. Several investigations by independent journalists, notably at Josimar and the New York Times, have identified a series of legal charges brought against the company and its subsidiaries since its founding around everything from extortion to fraud. Wander has independently been accused of drug trafficking, failing to repay tens of thousands of dollars in gambling debts in Las Vegas, and repeatedly failing to appear in court, among other allegations. 

While the company’s internal financial details are closely guarded, it appears that 777 Partners has made most of its money through a subsidiary called SuttonPark Capital, an investment firm that operates in the structured settlement business. SuttonPark makes its profits by targeting individuals who have received legal settlements and offering them a much smaller payment up front for rights to the full amount they are owed by the defendants. 

SuttonPark is claimed to target individuals who are dealing with addiction, disability, and mental health problems. It has been the subject of multiple lawsuits, alleging not only unfair business practices but also kidnapping, bribery, and extortion. In one case, a woman who had become addicted to opioids after a car crash left her with limited vision and brain damage at age 13 alleged that she was convinced to sign over the bulk of her settlement—but only after representatives from Liberty Settlement Solutions (a subsidiary of SuttonPark) picked her up, took her to a hotel, and plied her with heroin. Liberty is currently under investigation by the FBI. 

In addition to their structured settlement and payday loan businesses, 777 Partners has invested in low-cost air travel (in the course of which three jets were repossessed after 777 missed almost $30 million in payments) and soccer teams around the world (as of 2023, 777 owned seven soccer clubs). 

Over the past several years, allegations of unpaid bills and a pattern of delayed payments have plagued 777 Partners, leading to a number of accusations of financial fraud. Former employees have accused the company of playing a “shell-game,” moving the money earned from dubious financial practices like ZocaLoans from subsidiary to subsidiary without ever settling their debts. 

The lawsuit against those responsible for ZocaLoans

In February of 2022, Al-Nahhas filed a class action lawsuit against 777 Partners and other parties involved in making the illegal loans. Al-Nahhas is fighting to obtain a court order to stop ZocaLoans from collecting the illegal loans, as well as an order declaring that consumers do not have to pay back the money credited to them because the loans are void. Al-Nahhas also seeks, among other things, an award of damages to compensate himself and a class of consumers to whom similar loans were made. 

What can I do about my predatory loan?

Loans like those made by ZocaLoans and Minto Money are illegal in almost every state. If a court determines that your loan violates state law, you are likely not required to pay back the loan. In fact, individuals who have been targeted by this type of illegal lending practice may be able to recoup the money that they lost, in addition to compensation for the suffering these companies have caused. 

Wallace Miller attorney Matthew J. Goldstein is fighting for consumers who have been preyed upon by predatory lenders.

What Wallace Miller is doing to fight predatory lenders

Wallace Miller is proud to fight for all those who have been harmed by the oppressive lending practices of ZocaLoans, Minto Money, and other similar payday lenders. We are working hard to hold the people responsible for these abominable lending operations accountable, and will continue to fight to obtain compensation for the individuals they harmed. 

The legal team at Wallace Miller has more than 75 years of experience fighting for consumers’ rights. All consultations are completely free and confidential, and there are no out-of-pocket fees—our law firm only receives payment if you do. 

Have you suffered from predatory lending practices? Our team wants to hear your story. Call 312-697-1906 and let’s talk about your potential case.
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