Testimony in payday-lending pioneer's trial likely to start

Lawyers in the federal racketeering trial of payday lending pioneer Charles Hallinan on Wednesday spent a second full day screening potential jurors. Opening statements are expected Thursday, with the first witness to follow.

Prosecutors allege Hallinan, 76, of Villanova, along with his longtime lawyer, Wheeler K. Neff, amassed a fortune over two decades by exploiting the financial distress of low-income borrowers, who took out small loans with interest rates approaching 800 percent.

As states attempted to crack down on the industry, Hallinan purportedly dodged stricter usury laws by forging sham partnerships to hide his lending behind established banks and American Indian tribes that were subject to different laws.

Hallinan and Neff maintain they believed that their business tactics were legal. They have pleaded not guilty to charges that also include conspiracy, fraud and money laundering.

Their trial, in federal court in Philadelphia, is expected to last about a month.