ORANGE, CA: Ameriquest saw the media windfall of its Super Bowl halftime sponsorship tempered by a critical investigative story on the front page of the LA Times the Friday before the game.
The lengthy story included allegations by former Ameriquest employees that the sub-prime mortgage company mistreated staff, encouraged fraudulent lending practices, and tricked customers into signing for loans they could not afford. It also outlined a history of consumer complaints and lawsuits against the company alleging such practices.
The Times acknowledged that the company's prominent Super Bowl sponsorship played a part in the timing of the story, which the paper says it began reporting on last fall. "Its sponsorship of the Super Bowl halftime show was simply another hook and was worth mentioning prominently because the story came together just before the Super Bowl," wrote Times VP of communications Martha Goldstein in an e-mail.
An Ameriquest spokesperson, who asked not to be identified per company policy, said the company was not planning to respond publicly to the charges. But the company did issue a vague statement to reporters touting the company's values, saying, "[we] do not tolerate unethical or improper behavior."
All of Ameriquest's PR is handled by California-based Gladstone International. After the Times story, the company issued an internal e-mail telling employees to refer all media calls to Gladstone. "When you read these kinds of stories, always keep in mind that we are unshakeable in our commitment to 'do the right thing,'" the email read.
Gladstone has worked with Ameriquest for "many years," the spokesperson said.
Ameriquest's sports marketing program, which began with the naming rights to the Texas Rangers baseball stadium last May and continues with the company's NFL sponsorship, is designed to spread the company's name in anticipation of a move into the prime lending market.
The Times story detailed Ameriquest's political lobbying activities against predatory-lending legislation, and noted that the company was the largest contributor to the 2005 Presidential Inauguration Committee. The spokesperson declined to give a timetable for the move to the larger market, but said, "There are definitely plans under way."