Misleading Mortgage Investors Costs Germany’s Largest Bank $7.2 Billion

On January 17, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a $7.2 billion settlement with Germany’s largest lender, resolving federal civil claims that a German global bank misled investors in the packaging, securitization, marketing, sale and issuance of residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) between 2006 and 2007. Under the terms of the settlement agreement, the bank must pay a $3.1 billion civil penalty under the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act (FIRREA), and must provide $4.1 billion in consumer relief. The DOJ described the settlement as “one of the largest FIRREA penalties ever paid.”

As a part of the settlement, the bank acknowledged misleading investors in the packaging, securitization, marketing, sale, and issuance of RMBS. Pursuant to the agreement, an independent monitor will determine whether the bank has satisfied its consumer relief obligations. In connection with the settlement, the DOJ released an appendix containing credit and compliance due diligence results from a selection of the bank’s RMBS, along with a list of the RMBS at issue. The settlement— described by the DOJ as “one of the largest FIRREA penalties ever paid”—does not release any individuals from potential criminal or civil liability. The bank has agreed to fully cooperate with investigations related to the conduct covered by the agreement.

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Justice Department Recovers Over $4.7 Billion From False Claims Act Cases in Fiscal Year 2016

On December 14, the DOJ announced that it has obtained more than $4.7 billion in settlements and judgments in civil cases involving fraud and false claims against the government in fiscal year 2016 (ending September 30). Of the $4.7 billion recovered, $2.5 billion came from the health care industry, including drug companies, medical device companies, hospitals, nursing homes, laboratories, and physicians. The DOJ also recovered $1.6 billion from housing and mortgage settlements and judgments this past fiscal year – the second highest annual recovery in the history of the federally insured mortgage program.

There were 845 new False Claims Act suits in 2016, one of the largest totals in history. Of those, 143 were initiated by the government and 702 were brought by whistleblowers. Approximately $100 million was recovered in cases handled exclusively by whistleblowers and their attorneys—a sharp drop from the record $1.1 billion recovered in 2015, but an amount comparable to the averate amount recovered in previous years. Notably, the $4.7 billion recovered in 2016 does not include state shares. Such shares were significant in 2016 because of payouts involving the federal-state Medicaid program, with the top three health care settlements alone resulting in distributions of approximately $500 million to states.

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Jury Finds Mortgage Company and CEO Liable for Fraud; Awards $92 Million in Damages

A federal jury has ordered two Texas-based home mortgage entities and their chief executive to pay nearly $93 million for defrauding the U.S. government into insuring thousands of risky loans, the Department of Justice announced on November 30.

The mortgage companies and their former CEO were found liable for violating the False Claims Act (FCA) and the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act of 1989 (FIRREA) by, among other things, failing to maintain an adequate quality control program; and submitting false annual certifications regarding quality control requirements. Specifically, the government contended that defendants operated over 100 “shadow” branch offices that originated FHA-insured mortgage loans without obtaining the necessary HUD approval, and which were therefore not subject to HUD oversight.

Ultimately, the jury awarded $92,982,775 in total damages, including $7,370,132 against the CEO specifically—a sum that is subject to mandatory tripling. Further penalties relating to the FIRREA violations are expected, which U.S. District Judge George Hanks will set at a later date.

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Top 20 Bank Settles with DOJ Over Alleged Violations of the False Claims Act

On September 13, the DOJ announced a $52.4 million settlement with a top 20 bank to resolve allegations that it violated the False Claims Act by knowingly originating and accepting FHA-insured mortgage loans that did not comply with HUD origination, underwriting, and quality control requirements. It is the smallest settlement of a False Claims Act FHA-insured mortgage loans case against a bank to date as part of the government’s recent enforcement initiative in this area. According to the Statement of Facts issued as part of the settlement agreement, from January 1, 2006 through December 31, 2011 (relevant time period), the bank, while acting as a direct endorsement lender (DEL) in the FHA program, (i) certified certain mortgage loans for FHA insurance that failed to meet HUD underwriting requirements regarding borrower creditworthiness; (ii) failed to adhere to various HUD quality control requirements; and (iii) failed to adhere to HUD’s self-reporting requirements. The DOJ noted that the “claims asserted against [the bank] are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.” BuckleySandler represented the bank in this matter.

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SCOTUS Vacates First Circuit Ruling, Holds Scope of FCA Materiality Requirement is “Demanding”

On June 16, the United States Supreme Court issued an opinion vacating a First Circuit ruling on the grounds that the appellate court’s interpretation of the False Claims Act’s (FCA) materiality requirement to include any statutory, regulatory, or contractual violation is overly broad. Universal Health Servs., Inc. v. U.S. ex rel. Escobar, No. 15-7 (U.S. June 16, 2016). In a unanimous opinion delivered by Justice Clarence Thomas, the Court held that the implied false certification theory can be a basis for liability under the FCA when (i) the defendant submits a claim for payment to the government that makes specific representations about the goods or services provided; and (ii) the defendant’s failure to disclose noncompliance with material statutory, regulatory, or contractual requirements make its representations misleading half-truths. However, the Court did not adopt the appellate court’s expansive interpretation of what constitutes a “false or fraudulent claim” under this theory, concluding:

A misrepresentation cannot be deemed material merely because the Government designates compliance with a particular statutory, regulatory, or contractual requirement as a condition of payment. Nor is it sufficient for a finding of materiality that the Government would have the option to decline to pay if it knew of the defendant’s noncompliance. Materiality, in addition, cannot be found where noncompliance is minor or insubstantial.

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