NEW YORK -- Pro race car driver Scott Tucker was sentenced to over 16 years in prison Friday after his conviction for running a payday loan business that prosecutors say cheated millions of financially struggling Americans.
U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel said it was "staggering" how many people nationwide were affected by Tucker's business.
Over a 15-year period, more than 1 percent of the U.S. population became victims of the business, Castel said as he sentenced Tucker to 16 years and eight months in prison.
The judge said the business was "a fraud from the beginning" and a scam "to extract money from people in desperate circumstances." He added it "created heartbreak and sorrow ... not just a financial loss."
In a letter to the court, the 55-year-old Tucker of Leawood, Kansas, defended his business practices and implied he was misunderstood.
Castel ordered him to immediately begin serving the sentence, and he was led from court in handcuffs, but only after he removed his suspenders.
Timothy Muir, 46, a lawyer from Overland, Kansas, was sentenced to seven years in prison for his conviction at the same October trial as Tucker.
Acting Deputy U.S. Attorney Joan Loughnane said in a release that the business the men ran from at least 1997 through 2013 is now closed.
"For more than 15 years, Scott Tucker and Timothy Muir made billions of dollars exploiting struggling, everyday Americans through payday loans carrying interest rates as high as 1,000 percent," she said. "And to hide their criminal scheme, they tried to claim their business was owned and operated by Native American tribes."
Prosecutors said Tucker's lending enterprise, based in Overland Park, Kansas, employed over 1,500 people as it did business as Ameriloan, Cash Advance, OneClickCash, Preferred Cash Loans, United Cash Loans, US FastCash, 500 FastCash, Advantage Cash Services and Star Cash Processing.
They said Tucker, who hasn't raced professionally in several years, and Muir, the company's general counsel, charged interest rates ranging from 600 percent to over 1,000 percent, generating over $3.5 billion in revenue from just 2008 to June 2013 alone.
The loans were issued to over 4.5 million struggling people in all 50 states, the government said.
It said the jury saw evidence that many loans were issued in states, including New York, with laws that banned lending at the exorbitant interest rates Tucker charged and that the company provided scripts to its employees to read to individuals who complained that the loans were illegal.
In his letter to the judge, Tucker asked for mercy but defended his intentions.
"I am remorseful, your honor, for having failed to accurately display, convey and live up to the vision I had. I am remorseful, your honor, to have left a single person with the misperception that I do not recognize my responsibility to live as a good and fair business man, employer, and American citizen," he wrote.
He also said the legal process had "taken its toll," leading his brother and business partner to commit suicide.