On November 18, at an American Bar Association/American Bankers Association conference on the Bank Secrecy Act/Anti-Money Laundering (BSA/AML), Deputy Attorney General (Deputy AG) James Cole challenged financial institutions’ compliance efforts and outlined the DOJ’s financial crimes enforcement approach. Noting that compliance within financial institutions is of particular concern to the DOJ, based in part on recent cases of “serious criminal conduct by bank employees,” the nation’s second highest ranking law enforcement official detailed DOJ’s approach to investigating and deciding in what manner to pursue potential violations. The Deputy AG included among his examples of serious misconduct recent BSA/AML, RMBS, mortgage False Claims Act, and LIBOR cases. He explained that the DOJ is particularly concerned about incentives that encourage excessive risk taking, and stated that “too many bank employees and supervisors value coming as close to the line as possible, or even crossing the line, as being ‘competitive’ or ‘aggressive.’” Read more…
On November 26, the DOJ announced that Weatherford International—a multinational oil services company—and certain of its subsidiaries agreed to pay approximately $250 million in fines and penalties to resolve FCPA, sanctions, and export control violations. The DOJ alleged in a criminal information that the company knowingly failed to establish an effective system of internal accounting controls designed to detect and prevent corruption, including FCPA violations. The alleged compliance failures allowed employees of certain of the company’s subsidiaries in Africa and the Middle East to engage in prohibited conduct over the course of many years, including both bribery of foreign officials and fraudulent misuse of the United Nations’ Oil for Food Program. The company entered into a deferred prosecution agreement, pursuant to which it must pay an approximately $87 million penalty, retain an independent corporate compliance monitor for at least 18 months, and continue to implement an enhanced FCPA compliance program and internal controls. Read more…
On November 19, the DOJ, other federal authorities, and state authorities in California, Delaware, Illinois, and Massachusetts, announced a $13 billion settlement of federal and state RMBS civil claims, which were being pursued as part of the state-federal RMBS Working Group, part of the Obama Administration’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force. The DOJ described the settlement as the largest it has ever entered with a single entity. Federal and state law enforcement authorities and financial regulators alleged that the bank and certain institutions it acquired mislead investors in connection with the packaging, marketing, sale and issuance of certain RMBS. They claimed the institutions’ employees knew that loans backing certain RMBS did not comply with underwriting guidelines and were not otherwise appropriate for securitization, yet allowed the loans to be securitized and sold without disclosing the alleged underwriting failures to investors.The agreement includes $9 billion in civil penalties and $4 billion in consumer relief. Of the civil penalty amount, $2 billion resolves DOJ’s claims under the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act (FIRREA), $1.4 billion resolves federal and state securities claims by the NCUA, $515.4 million resolves federal and state securities claims by the FDIC, $4 billion settles federal and state claims by the FHFA, while the remaining amount resolves claims brought by California ($298.9 million), Delaware ($19.7 million) Illinois ($100.0 million), Massachusetts ($34.4 million), and New York ($613.0 million). The bank also was required to acknowledge it made “serious misrepresentations.” The agreement does not prevent authorities from continuing to pursue any possible related criminal charges.
This morning, the CFPB hosted an auto finance forum, which featured remarks from CFPB staff and other federal regulators, consumer advocates, and industry representatives.
Some of the highlights include:
- Patrice Ficklin (CFPB) confirmed that the CFPB, both before issuing the March bulletin and since, has conducted analysis of numerous finance companies’ activities and found statistically significant disparities disfavoring protected classes. She stated that there were “numerous” companies whose data showed statistically significant pricing disparities of 10 basis points or more and “several” finance companies with disparities of over 20 or 30 basis points.
- Much of the discussion focused on potential alternatives to the current dealer markup system. The DOJ discussed allowing discretion within limitations and with documentation of the reasons for exercising that discretion (e.g., competition). The CFPB focus was exclusively on non-discretionary “alternative compensation mechanisms”, specifically flat fees per loan, compensation based on a percentage of the amount financed, or some variation of those. The CFPB said it invited finance companies to suggest other non-discretionary alternatives. Regardless of specific compensation model, Ms. Ficklin stated that in general, nondiscretionary alternatives can (i) be revenue neutral for dealers, (ii) reduce fair lending risk, (iii) be less costly than compliance management systems enhancements, and (iv) limit friction between dealers on the one hand and the CFPB on the other.
- There was significant debate over whether flat fee arrangements, or other potential compensation mechanisms, actually eliminate or reduce the potential for disparate impact in auto lending. There was also criticism of the CFPB’s failure to empirically test whether these “fixes” would result in other unintended consequences. Industry stakeholders asserted that such arrangements fail to mitigate fair lending risk market-wide while at the same time potentially increase the cost of credit and constrain credit availability. Industry stakeholders also questioned the validity of the large dollar figures of alleged consumer harm caused by dealer markups. When assessing any particular model, the CFPB’s Eric Reusch explained, finance companies should determine whether (i) it mitigates fair lending risk, (ii) creates any new risk or potential for additional harm, and (iii) it is economically sustainable, with sustainability viewed through the lens of consumers, finance companies, and dealers.
- Numerous stakeholders urged the CFPB to release more information about its proxy methodology and statistical analysis, citing the Bureau’s stated dedication to transparency and even referencing its Data Quality Act guidelines. The DOJ described its commitment to “kicking the tires” on its statistical analyses and allowing institutions to do the same. The CFPB referenced its recent public disclosure of its proxy methodology, noting that this was the methodology the CFPB intended to apply to all lending outside of mortgage.
- Steven Rosenbaum (DOJ) and Donna Murphy (OCC) pointedly went beyond the stated scope of the forum to highlight potential SCRA compliance risks associated with indirect auto lending.
Additional detail from each panel follows. Read more…
On October 22, the DOJ and the SEC announced parallel criminal and civil actions against a U.S. company for allegedly violating the FCPA by paying bribes and falsifying documents in connection with selling ATMs to bank customers in China, Indonesia, and Russia. The federal authorities allege that from 2005 to 2010 the company provided approximately $1.8 million of value to employees of its bank customers in China and Indonesia, including state-owned banks, in the form of payments, gifts, and non-business travel. The company allegedly attempted to disguise the benefits by routing the payments through third parties designated by the banks and by recording leisure trips for bank employees as “training” expenses. The government also alleges that from 2005 to 2009, the company entered into false contracts with a distributor in Russia for services that the distributor was not performing. Instead, the distributor allegedly used the approximately $1.2 million in payments to bribe employees of privately-owned Russian banks to secure ATM-related contracts for the company. The company entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the DOJ, agreeing to pay a $25.2 million penalty, and it consented to a final judgment in the SEC action, pursuant to which it will disgorge approximately $22.97 million, inclusive of prejudgment interest. The company agreed to implement numerous specific changes to its internal controls and compliance systems and to retain a compliance monitor for at least 18 months. The government acknowledged the company’s voluntary disclosure, cooperation, and extensive internal investigation.
On October 23, a jury found a bank liable on one civil mortgage fraud charge arising out of a program operated by a lender the bank had acquired. The jury also found against a former executive of the acquired lender. The verdict followed a four week trial in the first DOJ case alleging violations of the FCA and FIRREA in connection with loans sold to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Judge Jed Rakoff of the Southern District of New York will consider briefing on the penalty—the DOJ originally had sought damages close to $1 billion. The bank stated that it will evaluate its options for an appeal. For more information about the government’s expanding FCA/FIRREA civil fraud initiative, please visit our resource center.
On October 22, the CFPB, the OCC, the FDIC, the Federal Reserve Board, and the NCUA (collectively, the Agencies) issued a joint statement (Interagency Statement) in response to inquiries from creditors concerning their liability under the disparate impact doctrine of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) and its implementing regulation, Regulation B by originating only “qualified mortgages.” Qualified mortgages are defined under the CFPB’s January 2013 Ability-to-Repay/Qualified Mortgage Rule (ATR/QM Rule). The DOJ and HUD did not participate in the Interagency Statement.
The Interagency Statement describes some general principles that will guide the Agencies’ supervisory and enforcement activities with respect to entities within their jurisdiction as the ATR/QM Rule takes effect in January 2014. The Interagency Statement does not state that a creditor’s choice to limit its offerings to qualified mortgage loans or qualified mortgage “safe harbor” loans would comply with ECOA; rather, the Agencies state that they “do not anticipate that a creditor’s decision to offer only qualified mortgages would, absent other factors, elevate a supervised institution’s fair lending risk.” Furthermore, the Interagency Statement will not necessarily preclude civil actions. Read more…
On October 15, the DOJ filed an indictment against a Swiss national and former executive at Maxwell Technologies—a U.S.-based energy storage and power-delivery company—for alleged violations of the FCPA. The DOJ claims that over a more than six-year period the former executive engaged in a conspiracy to make and conceal payments to Chinese government officials in order to obtain and retain business, prestige, and increased compensation for his company. This individual action follows a 2011 action by the DOJ and the SEC against the company based on the same allegations and which the company agreed to resolve for $13.65 million.
On October 10, a bank holding company announced that it has agreed in principle, on behalf of itself and certain affiliates, to resolve mortgage-related allegations by the federal government. The company reached agreements in principle with HUD and the DOJ to settle (i) certain civil and administrative claims arising from FHA-insured mortgage loans originated over a six-and-a-half year period and (ii) certain alleged civil claims regarding the company’s mortgage servicing and origination practices as part of the National Mortgage Servicing Settlement. Pursuant to the agreements in principle, the company committed to $500 million of consumer relief, a $468 million cash payment, and the implementation of certain mortgage servicing standards. The company also reached an agreement in principle with the Federal Reserve Board to impose a $160 million civil monetary penalty, in conjunction with an April 2011 Consent Order.
Recently, the DOJ released information regarding three fair lending actions, all three of which included allegations related to wholesale lending programs. On September 27, the DOJ announced separate actions—one against a Wisconsin bank and the other against a nationwide wholesale lender—in which the DOJ alleged that the lenders engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination on the basis of race and national origin in their wholesale mortgage businesses. The DOJ charged that, during 2007 and 2008, the bank violated the Fair Housing Act and ECOA by granting its mortgage brokers discretion to vary their fees and thus alter the loan price based on factors other than a borrower’s objective credit-related factors, which allegedly resulted in African-American and Hispanic borrowers paying more than non-Hispanic white borrowers for home mortgage loans. The bank denies the allegations but entered a consent order pursuant to which it will pay $687,000 to wholesale mortgage borrowers who were subject to the alleged discrimination. The allegations originated from an FDIC referral to the DOJ.
The DOJ charged the California-based wholesale lender with violations of the Fair Housing Act and ECOA, alleging that over a four-year period, the lender’s practice of granting its mortgage brokers discretion to set the amount of broker fees charged to individual borrowers, unrelated to an applicant’s credit risk characteristics, resulted in African-American and Hispanic borrowers paying more than non-Hispanic white borrowers for home mortgage loans. The lender did not admit the allegations, but agreed to enter a consent order to avoid litigation. Pursuant to that order the lender will pay $3 million to allegedly harmed borrowers. The order also requires the lender to take other actions including establishing race- and national origin-neutral standards for the assessment of broker fees and monitoring its wholesale mortgage loans for potential disparities based on race and national origin.
Finally, on September 30, the DOJ announced that a national bank agreed to resolve certain legacy fair lending claims against a thrift it acquired several years ago, which the bank and the OCC identified as part of the acquisition review. Based on its own investigation following the OCC referral, the DOJ alleged that, between 2006 and 2009, the thrift allowed employees in its retail lending operation to vary interest rates and fees, and allowed third-party brokers as part of its wholesale lending program to do the same, allegedly resulting in disparities between the rates, fees, and costs paid by non-white borrowers compared to similarly-situated white borrowers. The bank, which was not itself subject to the DOJ’s allegations, agreed to pay $2.85 million to approximately 3,100 allegedly harmed borrowers to resolve the legacy claims and avoid litigation.
This week, federal authorities announced the assessment of civil money penalties against two financial institutions for alleged Bank Secrecy Act/Anti-Money Laundering (BSA/AML) compliance failures. In the first action, FinCEN and the OCC alleged that a national bank failed to file suspicious activity reports (SARs) from April 2008 to September 2009 for activity in accounts belonging to a law firm through which one of the firm’s principals ran a Ponzi scheme. The agencies claim that the bank willfully violated the BSA’s reporting requirements by failing to detect and adequately report suspicious activities in a timely manner, even when the bank’s anti-money laundering surveillance software identified the suspicious activity (the bank subsequently filed five late SARs related to this conduct in 2011). FinCEN and the OCC assessed concurrent $37.5 million penalties. The FinCEN penalty is the first assessed by that agency’s recently created Enforcement Division. In addition, the SEC charged the bank and a former executive with related securities violations and ordered the bank to pay an additional $15 million penalty and to cease and desist from the alleged activity, including providing misleading information to investors as to amounts of money in particular accounts and actions the bank had taken to limit fraudulent activity.
In a second action, coordinated among FinCEN, the OCC, and the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey, federal authorities assessed $8.2 million in total penalties against a now defunct community bank for compliance failures related to Mexican and Dominican Republic money exchange houses. The government alleged that the bank willfully violated the BSA by (i) failing to implement an effective AML program reasonably designed to manage risks of money laundering and other illicit activity, (ii) failing to conduct adequate due diligence on foreign correspondent accounts, and (iii) failing to detect and adequately report suspicious activities in a timely manner. FinCEN and the OCC assessed concurrent $4.1 million penalties, and the DOJ will collect an additional $4.1 million through civil asset forfeiture.
On September 17, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Leslie R. Caldwell to serve as the DOJ’s Assistant Attorney General, Criminal Division. Ms. Caldwell currently is a partner at Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP where she co-chairs the firm’s corporate investigations and white collar practice group. Prior to entering private practice, Ms. Caldwell served as Director of the DOJ’s Enron Task Force from 2002 to 2004. Prior to that she served as Chief of the Criminal Division and Securities Fraud Section at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California and held several positions in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York.
On September 6, the DOJ announced the resolution of a long-running lawsuit against an auto dealer and a bank that financed many of the dealer’s loans, in which the government alleged that the dealer and the bank violated ECOA by charging non-Asian customers higher interest rate markups than other customers over a three-year period. The bank entered into a partial consent decree in 2009 and agreed to pay a total of $410,000 to non-Asian borrowers to resolve the allegations against it. The dealer chose to litigate and obtained a dismissal in trial court; that order was reversed last year by the Ninth Circuit. The dealer agreed to a consent decree with the DOJ on September 4 that fully resolved all claims against it. The dealer, which is now out of business, specifically denied the government’s allegations and the decree made clear the outcome was a “compromise of disputed allegations.” Under the terms of the decree, the dealer will pay up to a total of $125,000 to non-Asian customers who were charged higher dealer interest rate markups. If the dealer or its principal shareholder re-enter the business of automobile lending within the two year duration of the consent decree, it will be required to implement clear guidelines for setting dealer markup and pricing, in compliance with ECOA, and establish fair lending training for its employees and officers.
Last week, a group of 31 Republican House Members reportedly submitted a letter to the DOJ and FDIC accusing the agencies of “intimidating some community banks and third party payment processors with threats of heightened regulatory scrutiny unless they cease doing business with online lenders.” According to reports, the letter argues that the government’s actions effectively cut off access to lawful, short-term, high-interest loans available online. Several prominent online lenders have reportedly ceased their lending operations in response to similar pressure from state regulators.
FIRREA is a financial fraud statute that has been on the books for decades, and is fast-becoming a valuable weapon in the Department of Justice’s efforts to combat alleged financial fraud. FIRREA’s reach is broader than other civil fraud statutes available to the government, making it an especially powerful tool.
- It allows civil liability for violations of any of 14 enumerated criminal statutes, including mail and wire fraud;
- It allows for whistleblower recovery, and the potential for significant monetary penalties for the government;
- It has a 10 year statute of limitations; and
- Unlike the False Claims Act, there need not be a link between government funds and the alleged fraud; instead, the fraud need only affect a federally-insured financial institution, which arguably can include the defendant institution. Read more…