KC Magazine gave payday-lending magnate Scott Tucker all the good press his money could buy
In November 2012, KC Magazine called Scott Tucker “a staunch Republican voter and a long time political activist.” It was the latest of several appearances he’d made over the years in Anthem Media Group’s local glossy, a staple of doctors’-office waiting rooms in the metro’s suburbs. The admiring mini-feature also described Tucker as a private-equity entrepreneur.
It was true that Tucker had carried out many private-equity ventures. But KC Magazine made no mention — then or ever — of the industry that made this particular staunch Republican and local businessman wealthy.
That would be predatory payday lending — the industry that this year also has made Tucker the target of federal prosecutors.
KC Magazine‘s November 2012 writeup omitted a couple of other details about Tucker. The story traced his career path this way: “After leaving college, Tucker embarked on a career in private equity and quickly established himself as a successful businessman.” This leaves out a noteworthy first attempt at making a quick fortune that instead drew prosecution.
After Tucker graduated from Kansas State University, in the 1980s, a federal grand jury in 1990 charged him with fraud in connection to a bogus investment-bank operation called Chase, Morgan, Stearns and Lloyd (a corporate name that borrowed from various legitimate investment banks in operation at the time). Tucker was convicted and spent a year in prison.
By the late 1990s, he was running various payday-lending enterprises — which indeed led him to success, to paraphrase KC Magazine. But once again, his business dealings have put him in the crosshairs of federal authorities. The indictment brought against him by federal prosecutors in New York earlier this year alleges that Tucker’s payday-lending enterprise violated anti-racketeering laws.
Several publications, including this one, have tracked the shadowy nature of Tucker’s payday-lending businesses the past few years.
KC Magazine has not been one of those publications.
It and other properties controlled by Leawood-based Anthem Media Group have taken a softer approach when it comes to Tucker, failing to note the specific nature of his businesses and instead focusing on his forays into professional auto racing and touting his involvement in politics.
Tucker’s verifiable connection to elective politics turns out to be limited, but he does, as KC Magazine indicated in 2012, favor Republican politicians. On October 27, 2012, Tucker cut a $10,000 check to GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. As contributions from millionaires go, this one was all but entirely symbolic.
But for anyone following Tucker’s complex tangle of businesses, it was hardly useless.
In the Federal Election Commission record of that $10,000 check, Tucker listed his address as 7101 College Boulevard, Suite 400, in Overland Park — Anthem Media Group’s office at the time. And he listed his employer as AMG Services — the name of the leading payday-lending operation that federal authorities say he nominally incorporated on a Native American reservation in order to sidestep state usury laws, but in fact employed 800 or more persons in Overland Park.
The intersections between Tucker and Anthem Media Group run far deeper than a suburban office address and a set of initials.
Records show that Tucker has been, until very recently, a financial contributor to entities related to Anthem Media Group, either through direct cash investments or contractual relationships involving his many different enterprises. And as Tucker’s wealth has come under threat amid federal investigations into the nature of his payday-loan business, Anthem Media Group appears also to be in some state of upheaval. In January, longtime KC Magazine executive editor Katie Van Luchene resigned from the magazine. Its editor-in-chief, Kimberly Stern, left the same day.
“My departure from KC Magazine — as well as that of Editor-in-Chief Kimberly Winter Stern — came as a result of the publication taking a different editorial direction,” Van Luchene writes to The Pitch in an e-mail. “After assessing that, we decided to resign.”
Brian Weaver, the CEO of Anthem Ventures, the umbrella organization over Anthem’s publishing division, did not return phone calls from The Pitch as this story was being reported. In an e-mailed reply to a set of written questions delivered to Anthem’s office, he doesn’t address the future of KC Magazine or its sister publication Kansas City Business Magazine. He also downplays Tucker’s financial role in Anthem Ventures and its related companies.
“We have no business or financial relationship with Mr. Tucker,” Weaver writes. “I do consider him a friend.”
Friendship alone seems an unlikely explanation for the rosy stories and splashy photo spreads that Tucker received in Anthem Media Group’s publications even as media and federal investigations closed in on the businessman.
Positive coverage in the press is easier to get when you’re the one writing the checks.
FBI agents arrested Tucker without incident early on the morning of February 10 in Kansas City, Kansas, after a federal grand jury in New York charged the Kansas City native and Rockhurst High School graduate of illegally collecting debts and racketeering in connection with his payday loan business.
Tucker remains free on bond, secured by his $1.8 million house in Leawood.
When The Pitch attempted to interview Weaver about his connection to Tucker and the apparent changes to Anthem Media Group’s editorial products, he did not respond. So, on the afternoon of March 10, I drove to Anthem’s office, in a tony shopping center at 119th Street and Roe in Leawood. Though Weaver would later describe Anthem and its related business divisions as having 1,300 clients nationally — a number that suggests a bustling enterprise — no one was there that day, during business hours. I slipped a letter with several detailed questions for Weaver through a crack in a locked door.
I had hoped that Weaver would clarify what Anthem’s businesses do, and for what clients. The company’s focus seems to change frequently, with divisions that come and go; in recent weeks, Anthem’s primary business website, thisisamg.com, began redirecting to a website for Anthem Systems, a business that offers vaguely defined data analytics.
Weaver does, in his e-mail, offer a description of an Anthem property I’d asked about, Drive Digital Media. He writes: “Drive Digital Media was a short lived joint venture to produce an auto racing show for Ferrari North America featuring Bob Varsha which aired on Fox’s Speed cable network in 2009.”
Weaver doesn’t mention that Drive Digital Media, which court records say he owns, also produced a 2010 documentary called Daytona Dream. It followed Tucker and his Level 5 Motorsports auto-racing team as it sought to win the Rolex 24, an endurance race in Florida.
That Digital Drive Media found Tucker’s and Level 5’s story compelling wasn’t a pursuit of independent documentary interest. According to evidence filed in the Federal Trade Commission’s long-running civil case against Tucker and his payday-lending businesses, Tucker invested $755,756 in Drive Digital Media.
Another Tucker investment in Anthem-
related companies: $1.6 million in Allied Media, a division of Anthem Media that publishes online trade magazines for the health-care industry. Weaver is listed as its CEO.
In his e-mail to The Pitch, Weaver describes Tucker’s payments to his companies as debt instruments that were repaid in 2013. “We have no business or financial relationship with Mr. Tucker,” he writes.
If that’s the case, it’s the result of a recent change.
For a software company, Overland Park-based BA Services LLC maintains a studiously unimpressive website. It’s a static clearinghouse of clip art and stock images used to illustrate text that’s heavy on corporate-speak. Distilled to its essence, it’s an information technology company.
What makes BA Services unique isn’t what it purports to do. It’s that BA is one of the few, if any, businesses that Tucker established in his own name.
For years, Tucker managed to evade regulatory scrutiny of his payday-lending businesses because they had been established on land controlled by Native American tribes, with nominal executives installed in his place. BA Services is incorporated in Nevada, but in Kansas Secretary of State filings, Tucker is listed as the company’s sole manager. Its mailing address is an office building in Overland Park where AMG Services, Tucker’s chief payday-loan business, operated. And its registered agent is a law firm that employs Timothy Muir, one of Tucker’s attorneys, who was indicted in February alongside Tucker as a co-conspirator.
BA Services doesn’t list any clients on its website, but one of them was Kinetic Supply Company, another of Anthem’s many business divisions. Kinetic Supply describes itself as a data analytics firm.
Weaver says BA Services used Kinetic Supply to provide IT staffing services. “Kinetic elected to discontinue the relationship in 2015,” Weaver writes in his e-mail to The Pitch.
Sources tell The Pitch that BA Services was believed to be one of the larger accounts for Anthem, and that the loss of the business happened around the same time that the publishing division made its recent changes.
Other Anthem undertakings stalled last year as well.
Anthem Ventures announced a year ago that it would move some of its media and marketing divisions into a Westport building that most recently housed a failed pizza joint. In a story in the Kansas City Business Journal, an Anthem director said Brockton Creative Group, a digital marketing agency that Anthem had acquired, would move into the former Open Fire Wood Burning Pizza location on Broadway, near 39th Terrace. Today, the address remains empty, with no sign of construction to turn the restaurant into a marketing agency.
Weaver didn’t answer questions about the building.
A November 2012 online article by KC Magazine describes how Tucker pledged $1 million to a “super political action committee” called Champions for Change. The article described Champions for Change as a pro-business outfit that advocated for lower taxes and less regulation for business owners.
Champions for Change never grew into a proper super PAC. Formed in 2012, it never raised anywhere near $1 million — from Tucker or anyone else. The largest of its handful of donations was $130,000 — from a Nevada company called West Fund LLC, a company that Tucker controls. West Fund has few apparent business activities, and its headquarters is listed as a 240-square-foot mail drop in a Las Vegas suburb.
Some of Champions for Change’s proceeds ended up with Anthem Media, representing another way in which Tucker funded Weaver’s company. According to the Center for Responsive Politics’ Open Secrets website, which tracks PAC financial activity, Anthem Media was paid $112,534 by Champions for Change.
In the KC Magazine story about Tucker’s phantom $1 million pledge to Champions for Change, it’s never disclosed that Anthem Media received money indirectly from Tucker through Champions for Change. In fact, Tucker’s financial relationship with Weaver and Anthem are never disclosed in any story its publications issued about the payday-loan magnate.
Anthem Media’s ties to payday lending aren’t limited to Tucker. Among the company’s services are campaign resources for congressional candidates, with some of Anthem’s clients known to favor the payday-loan industry. In 2012, Congressman David Schweikert (R-Arizona) paid $777,204 to Anthem for media production — making him the largest political client for Anthem Media that year, which made $2.2 million from congressional candidates and Champions for Change.
Schweikert was linked in 2012 to an advocacy group called Consumers for Change, a now-defunct organization that spoke out against regulations of tribal payday lenders.
Tucker himself seems less directly involved in politics, despite being described as a political activist in the pages of KC Magazine.
Aside from Tucker’s contributions to Mitt Romney’s failed 2012 presidential bid and a $5,000 contribution to the Republican National Committee that year, the only other direct payment from Tucker to a political candidate on record with the FEC is a $2,600 payment to Congressman Tom Cole’s campaign committee.
Cole is an Oklahoma Republican and a member of the Chickasaw Nation tribe. Chickasaw isn’t one of the tribes where Tucker incorporated his payday lending companies, but Cole sits on the House Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies. That committee looks over, among other federal agencies, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which has oversight of Native American tribal activity. •