Criminal Usury in Colorado
CRS 18-15-104

In Colorado, excessive loan rates or predatory loan practices is criminal usury. Criminal usury is a felony in Colorado, with penalties including 12 to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $100,000. In this article, our Colorado criminal defense lawyers will address:

1. What is usury?

Usury involves lending money as excessive or unreasonably high rates. Charging excessive loan terms can be criminal usury in Colorado. This practice may also be known as “loan-sharking” or “predatory lending.”

“Any person who knowingly charges, takes, or receives any money or other property as a loan finance charge where the charge exceeds an annual percentage rate of 45% or the equivalent for a longer or shorter period commits the crime of criminal usury.“1

Providing the source of usurious money is also a criminal offense. Any person who provides money or property to a person with the understanding that the money may be used for engaging in this practice is also guilty of the crime.2

2. What kinds of loans are illegal in Colorado?

Some individuals may find it difficult to qualify for a loan. Banks or lenders may be unwilling to lend money to people for a variety of reasons, including poor credit, no collateral, a criminal history, or the money is going to be used for an unlawful purpose. They may have to take out a loan with unreasonably high interest rates in order to get the money.

Some reasons individuals resort to unreasonably high-interest loans include covering gambling losses, buying contraband, or pay bills to prevent losing their house or car. In some cases, illegal loans may be taken out to pay for expensive medical bills. If those loans are taken at an extremely high interest rate, the lender may be engaging in criminal usury. Usury often involves loans provided by organized crime.

Possession of records of criminal usury is also a criminal offense. Any person who possesses or hides records of criminally usurious transactions commits possession or concealment of records of criminal usury.3

3. Penalties

Criminal usury and providing money therefor loans is a class 6 felony in Colorado. The penalties for a conviction include 12 to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $100,000. There is a mandatory parole period of 1 year for a class 6 felony conviction.4

4. Defenses

Not all high-interest loans are usurious. There are a number of affirmative defenses to criminal usury. It is an affirmative defense for a person who charges a loan finance charge in excess of 45% annually, with the terms in a signed written agreement, in the following circumstances:

  • At the time of making the loan finance charge it could not have been determined by a mathematical computation that the annual percentage rate would exceed 45% a year; or
  • The loan finance charge was not in excess of 45% a year when the rate of the finance charge was calculated on the unpaid balance of the debt on the assumption that the debt is to be paid according to its terms and is not paid before the end of the agreed term.5

Criminal usury also may not apply to reverse mortgages; credit card charges not exceeding those permitted, and other charges or fees permitted by Colorado law.6

5. Related Offenses

Criminal usury may be related to other criminal offenses. These include white collar crimes of money laundering, and organized crimes involving racketeering, extortion, and bribery.

5.1. Racketeering C.R.S. 18-17-104

Racketeering under the Colorado Organized Crime Act is a pattern of criminal activity generally committed by gangs or organized crime. This includes gambling, loan-sharking, fencing stolen property, or drug distribution. Racketeering is a felony, with penalties including up to 24 years in prison and a fine of up to $1 million.

5.2. Money Laundering C.R.S. 18-5-309

Money laundering involves moving money around to try and evade the government's ability to track the source of the funds. Money laundering may be used to hide money that was embezzled from an employer. Money laundering is a class 3 felony in Colorado, and the penalties include 4 to 12 years in prison and fines of up to $750,000.

5.3. Extortion C.R.S. 18-3-207

Criminal extortion in Colorado is threatening someone in order to get that person or another to do something or refrain from doing something, against their will. Extortion is commonly called “blackmail.” Extortion is a class 4 felony. Penalties include 2 to 6 years in prison and a fine of up to $500,000.

5.4. Bribery C.R.S. 18-8-302

In Colorado, offering money or other benefits to a public official to influence their actions is bribery. Offering a bribe or asking for a bribe is a felony. The penalties for bribery of a public official includes up to 12 years in prison and a fine of up to $750,000.

Call us for help...

If you have been accused of loan sharking or criminal usury, please contact us at Colorado Legal Defense Group. 

Legal References

  1. C.R.S. 18-15-104(1)
  2. C.R.S. 18-15-106
  3. C.R.S. 18-15-108
  4. C.R.S. 18-1.3-401
  5. C.R.S. 18-15-104(2)
  6. C.R.S. 18-15-104(4)

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