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Woop Exclusive Investigation of Allan Jones

A WOOP Breaking News Exclusive

WOOP Investigates The Truth about Allan Jones


By Toby Pendergrass
April 1, 2011

W. Allan Jones, one of Cleveland’s most famous – and controversial – residents, has garnered national headlines for his brash, outspoken nature but has also received praise for his generosity.
Jones typically declines most interview requests, so separating the fact from fiction regarding his background and accomplishments has at times been difficult.

To learn the truth about the man so many seek to emulate, WOOP spent more than a year uncovering documents and interviewing people who grew up with Jones, worked with Jones and even argued with him during his controversial career.

The results of this investigation finally gives us a true picture of the truth about Allan Jones.

Beginnings and Controversy

A review of documents concludes that Allan Jones was born on December 31, 1952, in Cleveland, Tennessee in Bradley County to William A. (Bill) Jones and Virginia Slaughter Jones. He was the first baby born at the new Bradley Memorial Hospital.

Jones draws attention because he is the founder, chairman and CEO of Check Into Cash, the nation’s largest payday lending company with over 1,300 locations according to our yearlong investigation.  It is the largest, privately-held company in Tennessee.

The Los Angeles Times called Jones the “granddaddy” of the payday industry after he pioneered the concept of the nation’s first monolined payday lending company in 1993. In 2005, he was on BusinessTN magazine’s “Power 100” list and has appeared on the list consistently.

Jones was also on the cover of BusinessTN magazine in 2005 and the magazine called him the “The King of Cash.” They called him one of the 20 wealthiest people in Tennessee, although Jones apparently never made that statement. It came from the magazine.

Looking Back

As a child, Jones had an interest in business and often clipped newspaper articles that outlined notable businessmen. Our research shows that he delivered newspapers for the Chattanooga Times Free Press in the sixth grade and was awarded the paper’s title of “Paper Boy of the Year” for having the most satisfied customers. Neighbors say that Jones’ parents held him back in the sixth grade due to concerns that he spent too much time on his paper route.

Wrestling Days

Our research indicates that Jones is by far the largest individual supporter of high school wrestling in the country. Jones wrestled at Cleveland High School and was voted Outstanding Wrestler in 1971, Most Valuable Wrestler in 1972, and runner-up at 155 lbs. in 1972. Records show that he was captain of the team in both his junior and senior years at Cleveland High. Wrestling reportedly helped build Jones’ character. He once told a teacher, “In wrestling, I didn’t have anyone to rely on but myself.”

He declined wrestling scholarships in order to attend Middle Tennessee State University. Jones eventually left college at age 20 to help his father, who was suffering from emphysema. It was necessary in order to stabilize the family’s small, manually operated Credit Bureau of Cleveland.




The Bald Headed Bistro owned by Allan Jones is a popular spot for celebrities. Pictured here are “Leave It to Beaver” cast members, from left, Ken Osmond (Eddie Haskell) and Tony Dow (Wally Cleaver”, with Janie Jones, Jerry Mathers (Theodore Beaver Cleaver) and Allan Jones

Getting Started

Jones eventually purchased the family reporting and debt collection business in 1977 and grew it to become one of the largest credit bureau databases in the state, our research indicates. He sold the credit reporting side of the business to Equifax (EFX) in 1988, although he retained the name and the company’s collection agency division. He then built the company to be the largest in Tennessee with offices from Memphis to Atlanta. Jones sold the company in 1998.

Check into Cash

Jones founded Check Into Cash in 1993. According to published reports, he discovered the idea for the business after traveling to Johnson City, Tennessee, in the hope of hiring a manager for one of his credit bureau offices. The man was cashing checks with the agreement that he would hold the checks until the next payday before submitting them to the bank and Jones saw that this idea could prove to be lucrative.

Jones has publicly commented that his first customer was the local Army recruiter who needed money on a Friday afternoon to buy a bicycle for his son’s birthday because his government paycheck was late and would not arrive until the following Tuesday.

Check Into Cash eventually grew to include 1,300 stores nationwide.

Real Estate & Property

Extensive research indicates that by far, Jones is the largest property owner in Bradley County and owns a significant amount of downtown real estate. City records show he has purchased and renovated numerous buildings, including the 19.5 acre Village Green Town Center, Cleveland’s first shopping mall that he turned into a home for his various companies.

Accolades for a Legend

In 2003, the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce awarded Jones with the organization’s highest honor, the M.C. Headrick Free Enterprise Award. He was also inducted into the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame in 2003.

CFSA Beginnings


WOOP has confirmed reports that Jones helped found the Community Financial Services Association of America, or CFSA in 1999. CFSA is the national trade association for companies that offer small dollar, short-term loans or payday advances. Through a code of Best Practices, CFSA members abide by responsible industry practices that ensure customers understand the cost and risk of short-term payday advances to facilitate the best financial decisions. The practices also require that members hold themselves to the highest standard of service.

Interviews with those who were on Jones’ team at the time confirm that Jones founded the group after calling a meeting at the Chattanooga Airport with key lenders in the payday industry who flew in from around the country. Jones had broken away from the National Check Cashers Association, due to concerns that the NCCA, now called Financial Service Centers of America, was not giving enough attention to the payday lending industry.

Philanthropy as a Way of Life

Jones is regarded as a tree philanthropist and has donated many of the trees that line the streets of his native city, according to city records obtained by WOOP.

Jones told the city council that he learned the value of philanthropy from his father, who told him, “Always give more than your fair share.”

 City records indicate that Jones also wrote and funded Cleveland’s Shade Tree Ordinance that helped the city’s tree board earn the designation of Tennessee Tree Board of the Year in 2010.

City leaders have described Allan Jones as Cleveland’s most celebrated benefactor. Official records show he donated $1.3 million to Cleveland High School for construction of a state-of-the-art wrestling center. He was also the largest financial contributor for construction of a wrestling center at nearby Bradley Central High School, the rival to Cleveland High School. Jones has mentioned during television interviews and in an appearance before the city council that he is proud of the fact that the two high schools have always been in a neck-and-neck race for state supremacy. Records show that Cleveland finished second to Bradley five consecutive years before finally capturing the state traditional tournament in 2011, while Bradley won the state dual meet championship.



Allan Jones, center, presents a check from The Allan Jones Foundation to city and county officials to complete a multi-year commitment to new state-of-the-wrestling facilities for Cleveland and Bradley Central high schools. Pictured, from left, is Cleveland High School wrestling coach Eric Phillips, Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland, Jones, Bradley Central athletic director Turner Jackson, Bradley County Mayor Gary Davis, former Bradley Central wrestling coach Steve Logsdon and current Bradley Central wrestling coach Ben Smith.


Kids Wrestling Club & Other Endeavors

Official documents show that Jones financed and founded the first Cleveland/Bradley Kids Wrestling Club in 1990. The club eventually produced state champions from both Cleveland High School and Bradley Central High School.

Papers obtained by WOOP show that Jones donated the Virgil F. Carmichael addition to the Cleveland Public Library and that he gave $4 million to the University of Tennessee at Knoxville for construction of the Allan Jones Intercollegiate Aquatic Center.

MainStreet

Jones helped found the organization in 1990 and was the first president, according to public records. The non-profit organization is dedicated to the revitalization and promotion of Cleveland’s historic downtown area and Jones told the city council he was proud to help bring this awareness to the city. In a public appearance, Jones said he was pleased when the city’s MainStreet was named the best in Tennessee, because it gave Cleveland the state’s top Tree Board, MainStreet organization and wrestling program.

Tall Betsy

In 1980, Jones created the Tall Betsy Halloween character based on stories told to him during childhood by his mother, Virginia S. Jones, and grandmother, Marie Slaughter, according to documents obtained by WOOP.

 Jones appeared as Tall Betsy at his home in the downtown area on Centenary Avenue and on Oct. 31, 1993, 11,201 trick-or-treaters came to his door from 5 pm to 8 pm while thousands of others looked on, according to an official count taken at the time.

Records show thatt Tall Betsy drew such a crowd that we created the Halloween Block Party in 1986. The Block Party is now regarded as the largest organized Halloween party in the United States, according to the Cleveland City Council.  

Research shows that Jones dressed up as Tall Betsy for 18 years, from 1980 to 1998. The 2005 Halloween Block Party was dedicated in honor of Tall Betsy’s 25th anniversary and drew a crowd of 25,000. In 2011, filmmaker Zac Adams, owner of Skydive Films, created a documentary about the Tall Betsy legend.

Making College a Reality

WOOP has confirmed reports that In 2011, a contribution made by the Allan Jones Foundation made it possible for the non-profit organization tnAchieves to launch its scholarship and mentoring program in all three Bradley County high schools. The donation ensured that every graduating senior in the county school system had the opportunity to attend Cleveland State Community College. The program is important to Jones, according to people who know the businessman, because it changes the lives of students and families. Jones has said he believes it will help create a better educated and stronger workforce.

Pets

The Jones family has received national press attention for their dedication to animal safety and the preservation of endangered species. The family at one point owned a giraffe as well as a stable of horses and many exotic birds. However, it was a dog named Hazel that drew attention to the family in 2017 when Allan Jones mentioned that his wife, Janie, had received a juvenile Coton for Christmas. Jones joked on television that he did not think “we were going to be able to teach the dog to speak English.” The mention of the dog was referenced in later articles in the national news media that appeared about Jones and the dog Hazel was even featured in the Miami Herald as part of its “Valentine’s Edition.”




 
 
 
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