The payday loan guys who operated under our noses for years, bilking people throughout the country of hundreds of millions of dollars, are now getting the big squeeze they have long deserved.
A couple of the biggest operators — Scott Tucker and Richard Moseley Sr. — are facing criminal charges in New York, and on Friday a federal judge in Nevada ordered Tucker, a Rockhurst High graduate, and others to pay a massive amount of money to the Federal Trade Commission to resolve an FTC civil lawsuit.
On the front page of Sunday’s Kansas City Star, reporter Steve Vockrodt reported that the fine (if that’s what you call it) was nearly $1.3 billion.
Now, the reaction many readers had to that story was probably something like, “Wow, that’s a lot of money!”
Of course, it is…But the next question I had — and I expect many other readers, too — was “How much money might Tucker and the other defendants actually end up paying to the FTC?”
Seldom do parties who are awarded huge amounts in court cases ever see a majority of the money. There are two reasons for that. First, as the cases go up the ladder on appeal, awards often are lowered, or cases are settled. Second, most defendants, like Tucker, have squirreled away or lost much of their ill-gotten gains, making full restitution very unlikely.
And yet, reporters covering the first go-round of civil awards seldom bother to qualify the big, juicy numbers or inform readers that the initially victorious parties will never see anything close to those eye-popping amounts.
And so it was with Vockrodt. He didn’t bother, apparently, to try to contact legal experts who could have set him and the readers straight. Not only that, but Vockrodt didn’t even mention that the ruling — made by a U.S. District Court judge in Nevada — would undoubtedly be appealed. Vockrodt wrote that Tucker’s attorney “was not immediately available for comment,” but he certainly should have told readers the judge’s ruling was not the last word on the case.
…Vockrodt came to The Star in June from The Pitch, and he’s already established himself as a strong addition to the staff, especially at a time when The Star is laying off older editorial employees and replacing them with young, relatively low-paid people. But I have to say, that was lazy reporting on the Tucker story. Vockrodt did little more than regurgitate the court ruling and throw in some well-established background about the Kansas City hucksters who have shamed themselves, their schools and their families…On stories like these, reporters have to take the time to identify and contact experts and, through them, caution readers that what they see is not what the prevailing parties are likely to get.
Two good sources have suggested that, to help fill the gaps on The Star’s depleted editorial-page staff, a familiar face could be returning to 18th and Grand. Don’t be surprised, the sources said, if Rich Hood, former vice president and editorial-page editor, rides in to help out. Somebody has to step in, we know, because last week Publisher Tony Berg laid off his primary editorial writer, Yael Abouhalkah, and a few days later the only other editorial-page writer, Lewis Diuguid, announced he, too, was leaving. The last day for both men is Friday.
Hood, who is in his early 70s, was vice president and editorial-page editor for eight years before then-Publisher Art Brisbane canned him in 2001. Hood landed on his feet, however, going on to become director of communications for the Missouri Department of Transportation and later as a top regional administrator for the EPA. He retired from the EPA about three years ago.
Since last summer, Hood has been writing editorials for The Star on a freelance basis. When I reached him at his Lenexa home on Saturday, he said he had not met with Berg about taking on a part-time or full-time role at The Star, and he declined to say if he was interested in returning in a bigger way.
If Hood does come back, it would be quite a turnabout: He was basically fired by Brisbane for setting too conservative a tone on the editorial page, and Berg is now looking for “more balance” on the page, which has been decidedly liberal since Hood’s departure.
Finally, a former KC Star colleague told me about a reporting episode that made me cringe. It seems that in the course of reporting a story about an incident that took place at a Kansas City Public Library event, a young Star reporter named Ian Cummings made an appointment to interview library C.E.O. R. Crosby Kemper III. According to a library official who’s tight with my friend, Cummings arrived at Kemper’s office wearing a T-shirt and jeans…I don’t know what Kemper’s specific reaction was, but Cummings and The Star sure didn’t make any points with one of our most important non-elected public officials.