Lending leader faces a list of charges, debts

Man behind Academic Financial Services racks up debts, bad check charges.

By Thomas Lake, Jeff Testerman and Scott Barancik, Times Staff Writers
Published March 5, 2008

TAMPA -- A burly man from North Carolina went to jail Tuesday morning on charges of writing bad checks. This, on its own, is unremarkable. But the backstory involves millions of dollars, two jilted major-league sports teams and a vanishing student-loan corporation.

The man at the center is Roger Wayne Morgan, who faces a federal investigation and a heap of debt.

His career rose and fell like an infield fly:

North Carolina, 1994. Morgan, then 23, was convicted of safecracking, larceny, breaking and entering.

Tampa, 2003. Morgan, now in the land of sunshine and second chances, founded a company called Academic Financial Services. The company grew rapidly. By late 2005 he had nearly 330 employees, and he said AFS was writing nearly $70-million a month in federally guaranteed student loans.

By 2007, AFS had become one of the Tampa Bay Lightning's top corporate sponsors. A luxury box was named the AFS Club. Across the bay, T-shirts bearing the lime-green AFS logo were fired into the crowd at Tropicana Field. The company had a three-year sponsorship deal with the Rays worth nearly $1-million.

In July, AFS was on the verge of closing a $3-million, five-year deal for naming rights to the University of South Florida's Sun Dome.

But Morgan's company was falling apart.

In a shareholder lawsuit in 2006, three top officers accused him of spending millions in company funds for things like a swimming pool and a racetrack for all-terrain vehicles. It said more than 500 payroll checks bounced while he spent $50,000 for artwork in the executive offices and $100,000 to redecorate the executive conference room.

Also in 2006, the U.S. Department of Labor opened an investigation into reports that employees' 401k payroll deductions had disappeared.

And a St. Petersburg Times reporter learned in 2007 that in a sworn petition to change his name, Morgan had failed to mention the felony convictions from North Carolina.

The Sun Dome naming-rights deal disintegrated. The debt piled up.

In October, a judge ordered Morgan and AFS to pay nearly $560,000 to Chase Student Loan Servicing. Another loan company sued AFS for more than $500,000 in canceled premium payments.

The IRS filed more than $700,000 worth of tax liens.

The company's landlord won a default judgment of $1.92-million.

In addition, AFS ran up about $2-million in debt for equipment leased by Inter-Tel, a business communications company.

"Where was he getting all this money?" wondered John Gardner, Inter-Tel's corporate counsel, when told of the proposed naming-rights deal. "Was he printing it or something?"

Then, of course, there were the sports teams.

The Lightning demanded $150,000 for promotions and advertisements.

The Rays sued in January after a $221,250 check bounced. When AFS didn't respond, the Rays won a default judgment. Team spokesman Rick Vaughn said the Rays covered $10,000 in promised college scholarships that AFS failed to deliver.

A number of AFS employees hold payroll checks they can't cash. Among them is Bette Lynn Bravo, 43, who worked as an underwriter in the loan-processing department. She said she was dismissed two days after questioning where her 401(k) contributions were going. She calculated her account ought to contain $4,800, but a statement showed just $382.

"We all wondered if the money was going for his million-dollar ranch, the leased Bentley, the luxury trips," said Bravo, who is waiting for the Labor Department investigation to run its course. "Wayne Morgan makes a lot of promises and never follows through."

The company's Web site was still running Tuesday, but a toll-free number had been disconnected. The building that once housed its offices was vacant and available for lease.

Morgan, 37, was charged Tuesday with 24 counts of passing worthless checks. He could not be reached for comment. Details on the charges were unavailable.

Morgan went free from jail just before noon Tuesday on $48,000 bail. In his mug shot he wore a Lucky Brand T-shirt.

His arrest report listed a new employer -- a company registered to Christina Barry, who was once public-relations director for AFS.

The new company's name:

Second Chance Financial.

Times staff writers Tom Marshall and Colleen Jenkins and researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Thomas Lake can be reached at tlake@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3416.


Debts piling up

Records, lawsuits and interviews show that Academic Financial Services and Roger Wayne Morgan have numerous creditors and court-ordered payments, including: