On April 29, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York dropped its reverse false claims count in a pending False Claims Act case against a mortgage lender. U.S. v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., No. 12-7527. Although the government’s letter does not provide the reasoning behind its decision, during the recent oral argument on the lender’s motion to dismiss, the judge questioned the claim, noting that the obligation to pay at issue is conditional because it depends on an exercise of discretion by the government. The lender’s motion to dismiss remains pending.
Southern District of New York Judge Dismisses False Claims Counts, Allows FIRREA Claims to Proceed in Major Mortgage Fraud Case
On May 8, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed claims for damages and civil penalties under the False Claims Act (FCA) brought by the federal government against a mortgage lender alleged to have sold defective loans to Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae while representing that the loans complied with the enterprises’ requirements. U.S. v. Countrywide Fin. Corp., No. 12-1422, Order (S.D.N.Y. May 8, 2013). The government also claims that (i) the lender’s senior management ignored warnings about the supposedly high levels of fraud and defects, (ii) the lender attempted to conceal internal quality control reports indicating that the loans had high material defect rates, and misleadingly informed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that it had tightened its underwriting guidelines, and (iii) the lender resisted buying many of the loans back after the loans defaulted. Notably, the court did not dismiss the government’s claims under FIRREA, which has a longer statute of limitations and lower burden of proof than the FCA. The court expects to release a written opinion in the near future.
Federal District Court Holds Financial Institution’s Fraud On Itself Triggers Potential FIRREA Liability
On April 24, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York held that a federally insured financial institution may be prosecuted under the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act of 1989 (FIRREA) for allegedly engaging in fraud that “affects” the same institution. U.S. v. Bank of N.Y. Mellon, No. 11-6969, 2013 WL 1749418 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 24, 2013). In this case, the government alleges that the bank and one of its employees provided clients with false, incomplete and/or misleading information about the way it determined currency exchange rates for its “standing instruction” foreign exchange transactions, from which the bank profited, and which ultimately exposed it to “billions of dollars in potential liability.” Based on a lengthy analysis of textual meaning and congressional intent, the court concluded that the “text and purpose of FIRREA amply encompass the alleged conduct,” and that the government’s complaint sufficiently alleged that the bank was negatively affected by the fraud. The decision represents the first time a court has interpreted the meaning of the phrase “affecting a federally insured financial institution” under FIRREA to allow the government to prosecute a financial institution for its own alleged misconduct.
On April 4, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and HUD officials announced a civil fraud suit alleging FCA and FIRREA claims against a mortgage lender and its president for falsely certifying loans and other actions under the FHA’s Direct Endorsement Lender Program. Many of the allegations mirror those in prior mortgage fraud cases brought by the government, including claims that the lender failed to maintain adequate quality control processes, incentivized employees to expedite loan approval, failed to disclose to HUD all loans containing evidence of fraud or other serious underwriting problems, and made repeated false certifications to HUD. However, this is only the second time the government has brought claims based on the FHA’s annual certification process, as opposed claims based on certifications of individual loans. The complaint also alleges that the firm’s president and owner personally performed underwriting and provided false certifications to HUD in a number of instances. The government’s decision to name an individual also may evidence a new trend in its mortgage fraud enforcement practices. The government claims that to date HUD has paid more than $12 million in insurance claims on loans underwritten by the lender. The complaint does not specify total damages, but does seek more than $40 million in treble damages and penalties on the FCA claims.
On March 6, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California identified for the first time factors for courts to consider when assessing a civil penalty under the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act of 1989 (FIRREA). United States v. Menendez, No. CV 11-06313, 2013 WL 828926 (C.D. Cal. Mar. 6, 2013). The DOJ sued a real estate broker, alleging he committed bank fraud when he submitted a false certification on behalf of a homeowner to HUD in connection with the homeowner’s short sale. The DOJ claimed the certification was false because it represented that there were no hidden terms or special understandings with the buyer of the property, when in fact the broker himself, through a company he controlled, also was the buyer of the property and intended to immediately resell the property for a profit of nearly $40,000. Drawing upon principles applied by courts in other civil penalty contexts, the court considered eight factors to assess the civil penalty under FIRREA: (i) the good or bad faith of the defendant and the degree of scienter; (ii) the injury to the public and loss to other persons; (iii) the egregiousness of the violation; (iv) the isolated or repeated nature of the violation; (v) the defendant’s financial condition and ability to pay; (vi) the criminal fine that could be levied for the conduct; (vii) the amount of the defendant’s profit from the fraud; and (viii) the penalty range available under FIRREA.
In this case, the court found that Read more…
DOJ, State AGs File Civil Fraud Suits against Ratings Agency over RMBS Ratings; BuckleySandler Offers Complimentary FIRREA Webinar
On February 5, the DOJ filed a lawsuit in the Central District of California against a major credit rating agency, alleging that the firm defrauded investors in residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) and collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) by issuing inflated ratings that misrepresented the securities’ true credit risks, and by falsely representing that its ratings were uninfluenced by its relationships with investment banks. According to the complaint, the agency publicly represented that its ratings of RMBS and CDOs were objective and independent, notwithstanding the potential conflict of interest posed by the agency being selected to rate securities by the investment banks that sold those securities. The complaint alleges that, in fact, fear of losing market share and profits led the company to (i) weaken the ratings criteria and analytical models it used to assess credit risks posed by RMBS and CDOs, and (ii) issue inflated ratings on hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of CDOs. When CDO’s rated by the agency failed, investors lost billions of dollars. The DOJ brings claims under the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act (FIRREA), alleging that the company engaged in (i) mail fraud affecting federally insured financial institutions, (ii) wire fraud affecting federally insured financial institution, and (iii) financial institution fraud, and seeks civil penalties up to the amount of the losses suffered as a result of the alleged violations. The DOJ believes Read more…
On November 19, FinCEN and the FDIC announced that a state bank agreed to pay a $15 million civil money penalty to resolve the bank’s “history of noncompliance” with Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) and anti-money laundering (AML) requirements, including recent allegations that the bank failed to implement an effective BSA/AML Compliance Program with reasonable internal controls. Specifically, the federal agencies alleged that the bank failed to adequately oversee third-party payment processor relationships and related products and services. The payment also resolves parallel civil claims by the DOJ that the bank violated the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act (FIRREA) by originating withdrawal transactions on behalf of fraudulent merchants and causing money to be taken from the bank accounts of consumer victims. Concurrent with the federal action, the Delaware Office of State Bank Commissioner terminated the bank’s state charter.
The Evolution of False Claims Act and FIRREA Enforcement
BuckleySandler LLP will host a webinar on Friday, November 16, 2012, from 1:00 – 2:15 PM ET, focused on the Government’s most recent financial fraud enforcement actions, an overview of recent False Claims Act (FCA) cases and the Government’s increasing use of the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act of 1989 (FIRREA), and what this means for financial institutions that do business with the Government, Government-Sponsored Enterprises (GSEs), and other recipients of federal funds.
- A summary of recent enforcement actions by the DOJ, including the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York’s (SDNY) use and expansion of FCA and FIRREA.
- Understanding what the SDNY’s most recent lawsuits mean for the industry.
- Challenges facing financial services companies who do business with the Government and the GSEs.
- Predictions about where the Government may go from here.
This webinar will be of particular interest to in-house legal, compliance, and risk management personnel at banks and other financial services providers that do business with the Government, GSEs and other recipients of federal funds. Please no outside law firms, government agency personnel, consulting firms, or media. After registering and being approved, you will receive a confirmation email containing instructions for joining the webinar. Click here to register.
The CFPB: Investigations and Enforcement Actions in Focus
On Thursday, December 6, 2012 from 2:00-3:15 PM E, BuckleySandler LLP will host a webinar to discuss the CFPB’s rules governing investigations, enforcement actions, and adjudications. BuckleySandler attorneys Jeff Naimon, Jonice Gray Tucker, and Lori Sommerfield, also will discuss themes prevalent in the first three public enforcement actions undertaken by the CFPB, all of which were predicated, in part, on allegations of unfair and deceptive practices.
This webinar will be of particular interest to in-house legal, compliance, and risk management personnel at banks and other financial services providers subject to CFPB oversight. Please no outside law firms, government agency personnel, consulting firms, or media. After registering and being approved, you will receive a confirmation email containing instructions for joining the webinar. Click here to register.
On November 1, one of the five banks that entered into a comprehensive mortgage servicing settlement earlier this year with the federal government and 49 state attorneys general invoked that agreement in defense of claims recently filed against it by the federal government. Motion of Defendant Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. to Enforce Consent Judgment, United States v. Bank of America Corp., No. 1:12-cv-00361 (D.D.C. Nov. 1, 2012). Wells Fargo’s motion responds to a complaint filed in the Southern District of New York in which the DOJ and HUD allege that the bank falsely certified loans under the FHA’s Direct Endorsement Lender Program in violation of the False Claims Act (FCA) and the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act (FIRREA). In response, the bank has asked the court overseeing the national servicer settlement to enforce the Consent Judgment the bank entered, which the bank notes includes a comprehensive release for certain liability with respect to its alleged FHA mortgage lending conduct. The bank argues that the release specifically releases liability arising under the FCA and FIRREA for its alleged FHA-certification conduct. The bank seeks declaratory relief with respect to its rights under the servicing settlement, as well as an order enjoining the federal government from pursuing its case in New York. Wells Fargo’s motion indicates that the government plans to oppose the motion.
DOJ Files First Civil Fraud Suit Alleging False Claims Act And FIRREA Violations In The Sale Of Loans To Fannie Mae And Freddie Mac
On October 24, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) filed a $1 billion civil mortgage fraud lawsuit against a mortgage lender and a major financial institution in connection with loans sold to the government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs), the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac). Filed as a complaint-in-intervention in a pending qui tam, or whistleblower, lawsuit, the complaint alleges that the mortgage lender engaged in a scheme to defraud the GSEs in connection with the mortgage loans it sold to them, and that the financial institution that later acquired the lender was aware of and continued the misconduct. The suit seeks damages and penalties under the False Claims Act (FCA) and the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act of 1989 (FIRREA). This is the first civil suit brought by the Department of Justice concerning mortgages sold to the GSEs, and indicates that the government might commence other suits based on the sale of conventional mortgages to those entities.
The government’s allegations focus on a loan origination system initiated by the lender in 2006 that allegedly eliminated checkpoints on loan quality and led to fraud and other defects in the loans. The complaint alleges that the lender and the financial institution sold these loans to the GSEs but misrepresented that the loans complied with GSE requirements. The GSEs pooled the loans into mortgage backed securities and sold them to investors, subject to guarantees on principal and interest payments. As the allegedly defective loans defaulted, the GSEs suffered over $1 billion in losses through the payment of guarantees to investors. Read more…
On October 9, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced a civil fraud suit against a mortgage lender alleged to have falsely certified loans under the FHA’s Direct Endorsement Lender Program. The suit, filed in coordination with the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force (FFETF), claims that from May 2001 through October 2005, the lender regularly and knowingly engaged in reckless origination and underwriting of FHA loans, while certifying to HUD that those loans met the FHA Direct Endorsement Lender Program requirements and were therefore eligible for FHA insurance. Further, the suit alleges that the lender failed to conduct adequate quality control, failed to comply with HUD self-reporting requirements, and later attempted to cover up its reporting failures. The government claims that it was required to pay, and will continue to have to pay, FHA benefits on defaulted loans that contained material violations, and seeks treble damages and penalties under the False Claims Act, as well as Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act penalties. The government also seeks compensatory damages under the common law theories of breach of fiduciary duty, gross negligence, negligence, unjust enrichment, and payment under mistake of fact. This suit follows the settlements earlier this year of several other cases involving similar claims. One other similar suit is currently pending.