Judge orders Tampa Bay payday lender to close as FTC alleges fraud

Published September 5, 2013

A federal judge has ordered the closure of a Tampa Bay-based payday loan operation after its owners allegedly stole more than $5 million from tens of thousands of unwitting victims, authorities said Wednesday.

In a civil lawsuit, the Federal Trade Commission accuses Odafe Stephen Ogaga, 29, of Clearwater and Sean C. Mulrooney, 23, formerly of Clearwater Beach, of using their five companies and several websites to collect consumers’ names , social security numbers and banking information. information to extract funds from their accounts.

According to the FTC, the men used the money to support a lavish lifestyle that included high-end luxury cars. Mulrooney is the registered owner of a 2012 Maserati GranTurismo, while Ogaga owns a 2011 Rolls-Royce Ghost and a 2006 Ferrari F430, according to documents filed in the case.

Ogaga and Mulrooney operated websites under the names Vantage Funding, Ideal Advance, Loan Assistance Company, Palm Loan Advances, Loan Tree Advances, Pacific Advances and Your Loan Funding.

James Davis, an Illinois attorney with the FTC who has received nearly 1,300 complaints, said the two men sometimes ran their operation from an office in downtown Tampa and more recently from their homes.

Mulrooney and Ogaga’s operation involves what the FTC called “a bogus online payday loan broker.” The FTC said the operation promised to secure payday loans for consumers, but instead used the financial information provided to debit their accounts.

On August 29, an Illinois federal judge issued a temporary restraining order against Ogaga and Mulrooney, which forced the operation to shut down and freeze the men’s assets pending litigation.

“We’re going to seek redress from consumers,” Davis said. The FTC is also seeking an order “that prohibits these defendants from engaging in this behavior again.”

Reached on his cell phone, Ogaga declined to comment and referred the matter to his attorney. Messages left for his lawyer were not returned.

Ogaga has been arrested six times since 1997, according to Florida Department of Law Enforcement records. As an adult, Ogaga was charged with robbery, battery, and petty theft. The theft and battery charges were later dropped, but he pleaded guilty to the petty theft charge and was ordered to perform community service.

Davis said Mulrooney moved from his home in Clearwater Beach to Delaware. Voicemail messages left at Mulrooney’s Delaware address were not returned. Mulrooney has no criminal record in Florida.

Ivan Penn can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2332.