By TED CARTER
Madison businessman Irb Benjamin, indicted last week in connection with paying bribes in exchange for prison contracts, made $198,000 in recent years lobbying for Mississippi’s check cashing & payday loan industry.
Benjamin pleaded not guilty Aug. 21 to federal bribery and kickback charges that could land him in prison for 20 years and a $250,000 fine for each of the multiple bribery counts. Benjamin also faces the forfeiture of any money gained from the alleged scheme, authorities said.
Records of the Secretary of State show Benjamin received $66,000 annually from 2012 through 2014 from the Consumer Lending Alliance and the Financial Services Center of Mississippi, two advocacy organizations for check cashers and payday loan lenders.
The Financial Services Center of Mississippi, established in 1992 as the Mississippi Check Cashers Association, paid Benjamin $30,000 each of the three years.
The Consumer Lending Alliance is chartered as both a Georgia non-profit and Florida for-profit entity. It paid Benjamin $36,000 each of the three years.
As a lobbyist, Benjamin helped persuade Mississippi legislators in 2013 to remove a repeal provision from the state’s 2012 Check Cashers Act. The repealer would have required eventual renewal of the 2012 Act by the Legislature.
The 2012 legislation ensured survival of payday lending in the state. Supporters touted it as a way to provide borrowers 30 days to pay off low-dollar loans issued at more than 1,000 storefront locations around the state. In exchange for increasing the payback period from 14 to 30 days, the legislation increased the amount of money payday lenders could loan at one time to $500, including fees.
Legislators later acknowledged they left an easy way for payday lenders concerned about having money out for 30 days to get around the extended payback period.
The law specified a 30-day repayment period for loans above $250. However, lobbyists persuaded lawmakers to allow payday lenders to skirt that provision and require a 14-day repayment for loans and fees up to $500. They accomplished this by allowing payday lenders to make simultaneous loans of $100 each up to the $500 limit.
KC Grist, executive director of Financial Services Center of Mississippi, called the defeat of the repealer “an exciting victory for our industry.”
He said thanks should go out “to all those who work so hard for us on the ground at the Capitol, especially our association lobbyist Irb Benjamin.”