- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 1, 2016

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - An online lending company owned by Montana’s Chippewa Cree Tribe is parting ways with its non-Native American partner, which a lawsuit claims controlled the company and only used the tribe to shield it from state lending laws.

Plain Green CEO Jay Abbasi said Wednesday the company decided to leave its Texas-based partner, Think Finance Inc., because the company has grown to the point where it can be run from the Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation.

“What has been happening for several years, and what everybody has missed, is that we have been evolving as a company and an entity to stand on our own,” Abbasi said.

Think Finance officials said they only provided technology and support services to Plain Green, and they are pleased those services enabled the company to build a successful business.

“It is always disappointing to see a valued client move on, but Think Finance wishes Plain Green success on their new platform,” company spokesman Brian Bartlett said.

Plain Green has been a lucrative venture for the Chippewa Cree Tribe since 2011, when it began offering short-term loans to individuals at annualized interest rates of up to 379 percent. The company claims tribal sovereignty as an arm of the Chippewa Cree Tribe to avoid state laws in Montana and elsewhere that either cap or bar high-interest loans.

The company has become entangled in lawsuits with borrowers and a Nevada partner in the tribe’s first attempt to start a lending company. Two of Plain Green’s former leaders are serving prison sentences for embezzling money from the company and taking kickbacks from the former partner, Encore Services.

Two Vermont women who borrowed from the company are suing Think Finance and Plain Green officials over what they claim are predatory loan practices that violate federal and state laws. The company officials deny the allegations.

The Vermont lawsuit claims Think Finance ran the company, used the tribe to shield it from state usury laws and took 95 percent of the profits.

The tribe has vehemently denied it is only a front for Think Finance, saying Plain Green is wholly owned by the Chippewa Cree Tribe. Abbasi said the split with the Texas company has nothing to do with the litigation, calling it a “natural business progression.”

The company will still have vendors to provide support services, but its operations will be based on the reservation, he said.

“We’ve just grown to a level where believe we are able to do that on our own,” Abbasi said. “There are risks and we may not succeed. We have grown in our community and proud of what we have done.”

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