Pawn Shop Accused of Abusing Navajos

     ALBUQUERQUE (CN) - A Gallup pawn shop abused an elderly Navajo widow by selling off her pawned jewelry, baskets and clothes, charging illegal rates, and keeping the profits from selling the collateral, though it knew that was illegal, as it had been sued for it before, the woman claims in a federal class action.
     Lead plaintiff Caroline Tullie sued T & R Market on July 25. She claims T & R, which "makes high-cost pawn loans to people living in poverty on the Navajo Nation ... has engaged in the same illegal conduct in its pawn loans to hundreds, if not thousands of other customers."
     And, Tullie, adds: "Defendant knew its conduct was illegal because it was sued for many of the same violations of the law two years ago, in Merritt et al. v. T & R Market, Inc."
     The 27,413-square-mile Navajo Nation is the largest reservation in the United States. Thirty-eight percent of its people live below the poverty line; 48 percent of the households earn less than $25,000 a year, which is less than half the U.S. median household income of $51,371, according to tribal and U.S. Census figures.
     Tullie claims in the lawsuit that she and her husband pawned jewelry, baskets, robes and shawls at T & R, and that when her husband died in 2013 and she fell behind on payments, T & R "misrepresented its right to sell the collateral and to keep the entire proceeds of the sale," and that when it sold the collateral it failed to pay her the surplus of the loan, "as required by law."
     T & R did this, Tullie claims, after violating a slew of lending laws along the way, including charging illegally high interest, misrepresenting the interest rates, failing to disclose legally required information on the pawn tickets, failing to sign the pawn tickets, and selling her possessions illegally after telling her she owed much more on them than she actually did.
     The lawsuit adds: "In the complaint in the Merritt case, plaintiff pointed out that T & R's 'violations of law are willful. The Truth in Lending Act has been in effect for more than 40 years. The defendant corporation was formed in 1973. The TILA provides model forms for the creditor to use.'
     "T & R's willfulness is all the more vivid and indisputable now."
     Tullie seeks class certification and statutory and treble damages for violations of the federal Truth in Lending Act, the New Mexico Pawnbrokers Act, the New Mexico Uniform Commercial Code, and the New Mexico Unfair Practices Act.
     She is represented by Nicholas Mattison, with Feferman & Warren, of Albuquerque.