Wednesday, August 27, 2014

rule of law: slave leasing capital misery designs and exports modes of human bondage


pitch |  On the cover of Ingram's last month was a man named Steve Mitchem. The business publication was honoring him with one of its "Local Heroes" awards for philanthropic contributions — Mitchem has given $160,000 to the Down Syndrome Guild of Greater Kansas City over the past three years.

Mitchem has led an interesting life. He moved to Kansas City in the early 1980s to pursue graduate studies at Nazarene Theological Seminary. He then worked as a traveling evangelist for two years before settling in locally as a full-time minister at the Church of the Nazarene. In 1990, Mitchem went secular, at least professionally. He retired as a minister and joined Tivol, the luxury jewelry company, as an associate at its retail space on the Country Club Plaza. He rose through the ranks and was named president of Tivol in 2005.

Here in Kansas City, that's a powerful, and surely quite lucrative, gig. Yet Mitchem left Tivol two years after being appointed to the post. A story at the time in JCK, a trade publication covering the jewelry industry, reported that he was resigning to "join his son in his loan business."

About that loan business: Technically it is dozens of separate companies, with many different names, but it adds up to one of the largest online payday-lending operations based in Kansas City, according to several individuals with ties to the industry.

"Steve was working down at Tivol on the Plaza, and these payday guys kept coming in every other month and buying Rolexes," a source tells The Pitch. "He figured out that they were basically printing money doing their online-lending businesses, and he wanted in on it. So first, he set his son up in the business. Then he quit Tivol and joined him."

Filings with the secretary of state's offices in Missouri and Kansas, plus a couple of lawsuits, help back up that account. In December 2006, Mitchem's son, Josh Mitchem, filed articles of incorporation in Missouri for a company called Platinum B Services. In 2012, Dustin McDaniel, the attorney general of Arkansas, brought a lawsuit against that company and PDL Support LLC, another company controlled by Josh Mitchem.

In the suit, McDaniel alleged that Josh Mitchem and his companies controlled a variety of LLCs, purportedly based in the West Indies federation of St. Kitts and Nevis, that were engaged in lending over the Internet to Arkansas citizens at interest rates as high as 644 percent. Arkansas law caps rates on consumer loans at 17 percent.

"The purpose of these LLCs is to make it appear as if the Defendants are not the actual payday lenders and to otherwise shield Defendants from liability from lawsuits such as the one brought by the Attorney General in this case," the lawsuit states. "The Defendants make the decisions concerning all lending operations from their offices in the Kansas City, MO area."