Scott Tucker can watch a Netflix documentary about himself while he sits in prison for the next 16 years

One afternoon four years ago, before I ever published a word on the sprawling, secretive network of online payday lenders who turned Kansas City into a predatory hub — before, in fact, I even knew how sprawling and secretive that network was — I was slouched in my chair at the old Pitch office, stumped and frustrated. I was certain there was a big story to be told involving these payday guys. But my reporting hadn’t yet yielded information that equaled the high esteem to which my instincts held the story. The Magic Eye image refused to pop into focus. I couldn’t dope it out. 

The phone rang, and on the line was someone I’d left a message for a couple days before. This person listened to my questions, mostly didn’t answer them, and then suggested we meet face to face. We did, the next day. After some brief pleasantries, I started back in on my old line of questioning. I was quickly interrupted.  

“You’re not asking big enough questions,” the person said. “This is a big deal. When people figure this stuff out, these guys are going to end up in prison. They’re going to be on TV. This is like American Greed.”

The conversation reenergized me, and not long after, I got my story, and then many more stories, and the government started whacking these shady businesses, and, this October, Scott Tucker was criminally convicted for his billion-dollar payday loan scheme. On Friday, he was sentenced to 16 years in prison. (Tucker’s attorney, Tim Muir, received 7 years.) 

My old source again proved prescient on Tuesday, when Netflix announced its upcoming documentary Dirty Money. The six-episode series, directed by Alex Gibney (Going Clear, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room) examines corporate greed in America, and an entire episode is devoted to Scott Tucker and payday lending.

Incredibly, Tucker agreed to be interviewed for the film. He is even the breakout evil-villain star of the trailer.

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“Do you think you are a moral person?” he’s asked. Tucker hesitates, then smirks. “I’m a business person,” he says, in an exchange that so perfectly encapsulates the nature of corporate greed that the film’s editors made it the kicker of the trailer.  

If seeing this irredeemable bloodsucker lounging on the couch in Nikes and his little jacket makes you nauseous, and you need some comic relief, go read this letter Tucker wrote to the judge in his criminal case. It is full of preposterous lies and a lack of self-awareness that borders on parody. He brags about making anonymous charitable donations and claims that, upon turning 60, he planned to devote his life to philanthropy. At the end of the letter, Tucker begs the judge for mercy. 

Looked at one way, sixteen years in prison is merciful. This is a man who founded and presided over an operation that stole billions of dollars from the poorest among us. But sixteen years is a lot less mercy than Tucker sought. Let’s call it a win, watch the documentary (streaming January 26), and then start forgetting this guy ever existed.

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