Azano, apparently a customer of Gus Goldsmith.
Mexican businessman Jose Susumo Azano, apparently a customer of Gus Goldsmith.

After years of quietly going about his business, Louisville lender Gus Goldsmith is suddenly in the news from Louisville to San Diego.

In Louisville, Goldsmith, who owns Action Loan, says Metro Councilman Dan Johnson, D-21, defaulted on a $15,000 loan. Action Loan is in essence an unchartered bank. Though the suit against Johnson lists Goldsmith personally, and not Action Loan, as the plaintiff.

In a story yesterday by WFPL’s Phillip M. Bailey, Goldsmith also alleges Johnson’s legislative aide, former Jefferson County Judge-Executive Bryan Matthews, is into Gus for $3,000, a loan that’s past due.

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Metro Councilman Dan Johnson

Like a bank, Action Loan has hundreds of millions in assets in the form of market rate interest loans, higher interest pay-day loans and bridge loans, along with distressed real estate holdings.

Unlike a bank, it’s all Gus’s money. Action Loan doesn’t take deposits or participate in Federal Reserve inter-bank lending, so it’s not regulated by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the Comptroller of the Currency, or the Kentucky Department of Financial Institutions. Which means it’s probably a lot more fun and lucrative – though riskier – to be Gus than, say, Chuck Denny.

That’s in Louisville.

Former Insider Louisville writer Curtis Morrison sent IL a link to a post yesterday on the San Diego Union-Tribune website that goes beyond the usual poor judgement by Metro Council members to a story that has international ramifications.

The Union-Tribune story connects Goldsmith to a controversial Mexican businessman named José Susumo Azano Matsura in what can only be described as a mind-bendingly surreal story.

Azano is under investigation in San Diego for essentially bribing local officials in a bid to gain control of the city’s waterfront, aspiring to transform it into a Miami-like tourist destination.

Which we get.

But Azano’s influence permeates nearly ever sector of Mexico’s economy, from military surveillance technology contracts to a land dispute with San Diego-based utility Sempra Energy. And that’s where things get weird.

Allegations are that Azano used $2 million in bribes to a former mayor of Ensenada, Mexico, to shut down Sempra’s natural gas terminal there. At the same time, Azano is backing a farmer in a land dispute with Sempra and stands to gain 55-percent of any potential settlement, including two-thirds of a large parcel of land where Sempra built a luxury resort/executive retreat.

So of course, Azano, who is likely a billionaire and whose family is influential, borrows money from – you guessed it – our friend Gus. (Full disclosure: I wrote a 2008 profile of Gus for Business First, which is quoted in the Union-Tribune post.)

From the U-T post:

Public records in Broward County, where Azano has his Florida condo, show that in November Azano entered an “assignment of rents” agreement. The lender was Gus Goldsmith, a Louisville Ky., businessman well known in that city for his Action Loans “hard money” lending business.

The documents said that Goldsmith loaned the Azanos $2.65 million in November, payable in five years.

The post goes on to define “hard money lenders” as those specializing in lending to people or businesses that banks won’t touch, taking real estate as collateral. And not surprisingly, considering the risk, interest rates are higher than senior-secured debt from banks, though surprisingly not all that much higher.

Witness the 8-percent interest Gus is charging Johnson on his loan. Though Johnson is a public official who could conceivably do Gus a favor somewhere along the line.

But the question the Union-Tribune asks is, “Why would someone with Azano’s nearly unlimited wealth need Gus Goldsmith?”

Unlike in the Johnson Affair, Gus ain’t talkin’.

One clue could be Action Loan’s website for its South Florida business. On that website, Action Loan advertises real estate loans up to $5 million for residential loans, flips, rehabs, bank-owned real estate loans, short sales, foreclosures and bridge loans.

More as we talk to our sources.

Terry Boyd

Terry Boyd

Terry Boyd has seven years experience as a business/finance journalist, and eight years a military reporter with European Stars and Stripes. As a banking and finance reporter at Business First, Boyd dealt directly with the most influential executives and financiers in Louisville.