Dr. Boyce Watkins recently took Montel Williams to task, in a fairly mild way, for the daytime talk icon's decision to serve as a spokesman for Money Mutual, a payday lender.
Watkins writes that "No, Montel is not a crook. And neither are Magic Johnson and Russell Simmons, two other people who have loaned their names to companies (Rent-a-Center and The Rush Card) that want to loan us money. Instead, they are pure, hardcore capitalists... It's OK for these guys to go out and make their money, but unregulated capitalism in poor communities is almost never a good thing."
I agree: Montel Williams is not a crook in the sense that he's not breaking any law. But he and people of his ilk -- community icons who sell their credibility and influence to the highest-bidding predatory lender -- do a grave disservice to the people who look up to them and made the stars in the first place. They deserve all the mud-slinging they'll get, and quite a bit more, for their avarice. Back in August, I took Magic Johnson to the woodshed over his endorsement of Rent-a-Center, a company the Washington State Attorney General sued, accusing it of a slew of illegal, anti-consumer practices.
The fact that companies like Money Mutual and Rent-a-Center seek out celebrity spokespeople like Montel and Magic is all the proof you need that they're aggressively targeting minorities with their high-interest loans: and it's unfortunate that these two men, who are already rich, can be bought so easily.
It's time for consumers to demand that iconic stars, especially those who are looked up to by people who are vulnerable to predatory financial services companies, stop doing deals with companies that lend money to consumers at usurious interest rates. Give Montel Williams a piece of your mind and tell him you expect better by calling his foundation at 1-888-324-2773 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Montel Williams: Charlatan. Sell-out. Vulture.