Originally published on July 24, 2006.
Columbus businessman John Gill Jr. was facing a felony trial in July in Florida, where he was to answer to familiar allegations.
Gill, 48, of 402 River Oak Way, Phenix City, reported to a Pensacola, Fla., courtroom, where a state prosecutor will attempt to prove he's guilty of unlawfully conducting a business enterprise. Gill has pleaded not guilty.
It's an accusation involving predatory lending that has dogged Gill across several states, including Georgia. Jean Ann Fox, director of consumer protection for the Consumer Federation of America, said people charged with crimes such as the one Gill is charged with allegedly attempt to disguise illegal lending practices by concocting methods of making them appear legal by that state's standards. A business offering payday loans might issue a $100 cash rebate to someone for a telephone card or Internet access, and then take a percentage of that person's paycheck every two weeks for the next year.
"State after state has challenged that," Fox said.
Lynn Drysdale, a consumer law attorney with Jacksonville Area Legal Aid Inc., said businesses accused of such crimes give criminally usurious loans under a ruse like the Internet example, as well as failing to provide customers with required information.
"I sued Mr. Gill last year," Drysdale said. "Never had the pleasure of speaking with him."
Payday loan businesses in Florida may charge 390 percent interest legally, though Drysdale claims Gill went higher. In Texas, Gill was accused of charging as high as 782 percent interest.
Giving a customer money up front as well as coupons to buy items from a catalog --- and circumventing a law capping payday loaners --- is nothing more than a way of getting around the law, she said.
Jailed in 2004
Gill spent almost three weeks in a Georgia jail in April 2004 for failing to produce business records for Georgia Catalog Sales as requested for proceedings in the Northern District of Georgia Bankruptcy Court. A last-minute deal allowed Gill to go free.
Patrick Crosby, public affairs officer for the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, said Gill had a contempt of court conviction on his record from April 27, 2004. Crosby wouldn't say if Gill had pending charges from his office.
Louisiana filed cease and desist orders against Gill in 1992 for excessive financial charges. Colorado found him in violation in 1993. In Alabama, a grand jury in 1993 said Gill had violated the small loans act. In Washington, Gill was ordered to pay a $23,600 fine.