Take a look at these photos of three former choir boys…Well, actually, I don’t know if they were choir boys. I do know, however, that they once were students at Visitation Grade School (and probably Rockhurst High School), and they are from highly regarded Visitation families.
As adults, however, these three have been neck deep in the payday loan business.
I’ve been asking myself how does this equate — kids from bedrock Visitation families going into the business of making fortunes at the expense of poor people?
I understand that greed is one of the Seven Deadly Sins and that it can strike anyone. But still…Looking at the photos of these boys from the days when I was a Visitation parishioner, seeing their families at church on Sundays, it’s just hard for me to reconcile.
For the record, I don’t think I’ve ever met any of the three men; I’m at least 20 years older than they are. But I am familiar with their parents. Tim Coppinger’s father is a respected physician, now mostly retired; his mother an anchor at Visitation Church. The Hodes family has a very successful plumbing supply business, now owned and operated by a third-generation family member.
Several members of the Hodes family have been major contributors to Visitation Church, particularly to a $13-million-plus renovation and expansion of the church, 51st and Main, about 10 years ago.
Two sources told me that Tim Coppinger contributed the money several years ago for construction of a new running track — Coppinger Family Track — at St. Teresa’s Academy, 55th and Main.
My guess is that ill-gotten money paid for that track. And, to me, that raises a secondary issue: Did the St. Teresa’s administration and board of directors know how Tim Coppinger had made his money? If so, did they ever consider rejecting the money?
Earlier this week, a Kansas City Star editorial made note of the “awkward twist” through which some of the dirty money was later directed to philanthropic causes.
Tim — the fresh-faced kid in the above-left photo — is now a defendant in a Federal Trade Communication lawsuit that says he and another man, Frampton T. Rowland III, were in the business of “bilking cash-strapped consumers out of as much money as possible.”
In recently unsealed court filings, the FTC alleges that Coppinger and Rowland used personal financial information about people to make phony loans that consumers hadn’t agreed to — and that some had never applied for. The defendants then made one-time electronic deposits in the “borrowers” bank accounts and began debiting the accounts indefinitely for biweekly “finance charges” of $60 to $90. But the principal amount — usually $150 to $300 — never went away, according to the lawsuit.
Then, there are the Hodes boys.
In a December 2013 story, the Pitch said that Vince Hodes led an outfit called the Vianney Fund, which in 2010 sought $20 million from investors, with a $100,000 minimum buy-in.
The Pitch quoted the firm’s initial offering as saying, in part:
“We intend to focus the majority of the Company’s efforts and investments on funding loans to payday-lending companies in both the retail and Internet markets. However, the Company may also extend credit to other Subprime Borrowers, including check-cashing, rent-to-own, subprime mortgage, and pawn shops.”
“In other words,” The Pitch concluded, “Vianney is an equal-opportunity exploiter of poor people.”
Here’s what that same Pitch story said about Chris Hodes:
“From a Brookside building at 601 East 63rd Street, he presides over a variety of hard-to-pin-down companies. Based on lawsuits filed in recent years, he is likely very much immersed in the online lending industry.
“In 2010, the Arkansas Attorney General sued Arrowhead Investments and Galaxy Marketing, as well as Christopher Hodes (whom it alleged to be the controller of these two companies), for lending over the Internet to Arkansans at interest rates of 782 percent. Arkansas law caps consumer lending rates at 17 percent. The companies settled and promised not to lend in the state again.”
Seven-hundred eighty-two percent!
I brought up these guys’ family backgrounds because that is a significant part of the disconnect. Also, this isn’t just any parish, it’s Visitation, one of the wealthiest parishes per capita in the Kansas City area, and certainly the wealthiest per capita in the city.
I understand that parents cannot be held responsible for what their adult children do, but I wonder what the parents think about these particular sons’ notions of “success.”
Let’s make one thing, clear, though: These men are an embarrassment to their families, to Visitation and to their community.
That same KC Star editorial said:
“To its chagrin, the Kansas City area has become a hotbed for abusive online payday loan operations…payday loan operations are toxic enterprises, and it’s to Kansas City’s detriment that they received the financial and technical support to thrive here.”
It couldn’t have been done without the willing participation of people who tossed aside their moral compasses for the sake of many big paydays. Now, as governments move in to put a stop to their wrongdoings, let them bask in shame.
P.S. This is a retooled version of a post I put up earlier today.