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  • OFAC Penalizes Dental Supply Company for Violations of the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations

    Financial Crimes

    The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) announced that it entered into a $1.2 million settlement with a U.S. dental supply company for alleged violations of the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (ITSR). According to the December 6 announcement, between November 2009 and July 2012, two of the company’s subsidiaries exported 37 shipments of dental supplies to distributors in other countries with “knowledge or reason to know that the goods were ultimately destined for Iran.” OFAC determined that the alleged violations were non-egregious.

    In determining the settlement amount, OFAC considered multiple factors, including that (i) the subsidiaries acted willfully in violation of the ITSR because employees concealed their knowledge that the goods were destined for Iran; (ii) subsidiary supervisory personnel actively concealed their awareness of the apparent violations from their U.S. parent company; and (iii) the U.S. company is “commercially sophisticated” with knowledge of OFAC’s regulations. OFAC also considered numerous mitigating factors, including (i) the fact that the U.S. company has not received a penalty from OFAC in the previous five years; (ii) the harm to the ITSR program was limited; and (iii) the U.S. company cooperated with the investigation and took remedial steps. 

    Financial Crimes OFAC Sanctions Settlement Department of Treasury

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  • FTC Announces Settlement With Debt Collection Operation

    Consumer Finance

    This week, the FTC obtained a court order banning a Florida-based debt collection operation and its managing member from the debt collection business. The defendants were accused of violations of the FTC Act and the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act for, among other things, allegedly posing as lawyers and threating individuals with lawsuits or prison time if they failed to pay debt they did not actually owe. The order resolves a complaint filed by the FTC in July against defendants. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.) Under the terms of the settlement, the defendants are prohibited from, among other things, (i) engaging in debt collection activities; (ii) misrepresenting material facts regarding financial-related products or services; (iii) disclosing, using, or benefiting from consumers’ personal information; and (iv) improperly disposing such information when appropriate. Finally, the order assessed a $702,059 judgment for equitable monetary relief. 

    Consumer Finance FTC Debt Collection Settlement

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  • CFPB Updates Guide to TRID Forms

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On December 6, the CFPB published an updated version of the TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosure Guide to the Loan Estimate and Closing Disclosure Forms. The updated guide reflects the amendments issued by the CFPB on July 7 of this year (previously covered by a Buckley Sandler Special Alert). These include changes resolving a number of significant ambiguities that generated concerns about the liability of lenders and purchasers of mortgage loans.

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance CFPB TRID TILA RESPA

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  • Jury Verdict Clears Student Loan Servicer in FCA Suit

    Courts

    On December 5, after a five-day trial, a jury in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia entered a unanimous verdict clearing a Pennsylvania-based student loan servicing agency (defendant) accused of improper billing practices under the False Claims Act (FCA) and bilking the federal government of millions of dollars. The plaintiff—a former Department of Education employee whistleblower—sought treble damages and forfeitures under the FCA. The case stems from a qui tam suit originally filed in 2007, in which the plaintiff alleged that multiple state-run student loan financing agencies overcharged the U.S. government through fraudulent claims to the Federal Family Education Loan Program in order to unlawfully obtain 9.5 percent special allowance interest payments. Although the district court dismissed four of the agencies from the suit in 2009, ruling that they were state agencies and therefore immune from lawsuits brought by a qui tam relator, a Fourth Circuit Panel eventually reversed the ruling with respect to the Pennsylvania-based state agency defendant, holding that the entity “is an independent political subdivision, not an arm of the commonwealth,” and “therefore a 'person' subject to liability under the False Claims Act.” The panel held that the defendant failed to qualify as a state entity because the defendant’s board is responsible for decision-making and its revenue derives from commercial activities, notwithstanding the fact that the defendant is operated by state employees and is required to deposit its funds in the state’s treasury.

    Upon remand, the district court cleared the way for the jury trial by denying the defendant’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, which argued that the plaintiff cannot establish the materiality requirement set under Universal Health Services, Inc. v. U.S. ex rel. Escobar. In a memorandum opinion, the court concluded that the Department of Education continuing to pay claims even after becoming aware of the loan servicer’s billing practices did not, in fact, change the definition of materiality under the FCA, and therefore, did not “merit reconsideration of this court’s ruling that plaintiff stated a plausible claim.”

    The case then went to jury trial in November, leading to the jury’s verdict in favor of the defendant. 

    Courts False Claims Act / FIRREA Student Lending Appellate

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  • Senate Banking Committee Approves Financial Regulatory Relief Bill

    Federal Issues

    On December 5, the Senate Banking Committee approved bill S.2155, Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, which would alter certain financial regulations under the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010. While not as sweeping as previous legislative relief proposals (see previous InfoBytes coverage on House Financial CHOICE Act of 2017), the bill was introduced and passed the Committee with bipartisan support. The bill’s highlights include, among other things:

    • Consumer Access to Credit. The bill deems mortgage loans held in portfolios by insured institutions with less than $10 billion in assets to be “qualified mortgages” under TILA, and removes the three-day waiting period for TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosures if the second credit offer is a lower rate. The bill also instructs the CFPB to provide “clearer, authoritative guidance” on certain issues such as the applicability of TRID to mortgage assumptions and construction-to-permanent loans. Additionally, the bill eases appraisal requirements on certain mortgage loans and exempts small depository institutions with low mortgage originations from certain HMDA disclosure requirements.
    • Regulatory Relief for Certain Institutions. The bill exempts community banks from Section 13 of the Bank Holding Company Act if they have, “[i] less than $10 billion in total consolidated assets, and [ii] total trading assets and trading liabilities that are not more than five percent of total consolidated assets” – effectively allowing for exempt banks to engage in the trading of, or holding ownership interests in, hedge funds or private equity funds. Additionally, the bill raises the threshold of the Federal Reserve’s Small Bank Holding Company Policy Statement and the qualification for certain banks to have an 18-month examination cycle from $1 billion to $3 billion.
    • Protections for Consumers. Included in an adopted “manager’s amendment,” the bill requires credit bureaus to provide consumers unlimited free security freezes and unfreezes. The bill also limits certain medical debt information that can be included on veterans’ credit reports.
    • Changes for Bank Holding Companies. The bill raises the threshold for applying enhanced prudential standards from $50 billion to $250 billion.

    The bill now moves to the Senate, which is not expected to take up the package before the end of this year.

    Federal Issues Senate Banking Committee Dodd-Frank Federal Legislation TILA RESPA TRID Federal Reserve OCC FDIC Mortgages HMDA Credit Reporting Agency

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  • English Litigation Continues as Mulvaney Delays CFPB Enforcement Cases and Lawmakers Begin New Payday CRA Action

    Federal Issues

    On December 6, Deputy Director of the CFPB, Leandra English, filed an amended complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief and a motion for preliminary injunction with a supporting memorandum. In her amended complaint, English adds, among other things, a constitutional claim alleging that President Trump’s appointment of Mulvaney violates Article II, section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, which empowers the President to appoint “Officers of the United States,” subject to “the Advice and Consent of the Senate.” According to English, since Mulvaney was appointed without Senate approval and the Federal Vacancies Reform Act (FVRA) allegedly does not provide the President with a separate authority, President Trump does not have the constitutional authority to appoint Mulvaney in the manner he chose.

    The amended complaint also alleges that the appointment of Mulvaney under the FVRA is illegal because that act cannot be used to make an appointment to an “independent multi-member board or commission without Senate approval,” and the CFPB Director is, by law, a member of the FDIC’s board. This argument mirrors the argument made in a new complaint filed on December 5 by a New York-based credit union against President Trump and Acting CFPB Director Mick Mulvaney in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York to contest the legality of Mulvaney’s appointment. The defendants have yet to respond to the credit union’s complaint.

    With respect to English’s litigation, the defendants are set to respond to the motion for preliminary injunction, which builds off the arguments in the amended complaint, by December 18, and a hearing on the motion is set for December 22.

    Mulvaney has continued his work as Acting Director at the CFPB. On December 4, according to sources, he met with reporters to announce his decision to delay at least two active litigation cases as part of his plan to reevaluate the Bureau’s enforcement and litigation practices. The first case concerns a district court dispute between the Bureau and an immigration bond company over whether the CFPB has the authority to enforce a civil investigative demand for personal information about the company’s customers. The second case involves Mulvaney’s decision to withdraw the Bureau’s demand that a mortgage payment company post bond after being ordered to pay a $7.9 million civil money penalty (see previous InfoBytes coverage here). Mulvaney’s December 4 statements also included a freeze on the Bureau’s collection of consumers’ personally identifiable information. These actions follow directions issued by Mulvaney during his first week at the Bureau as previously covered by InfoBytes here.

    Mulvaney has also suggested that he would not seek to repeal the Bureau’s final rule concerning payday loans, vehicle title loans, deposit advance products, and longer-term balloon loans but expressed his support for resolution H.J. Res. 122, which was introduced December 1 by a group of bipartisan lawmakers to override the rule under the Congressional Review Act (CRA).  The final rule is set to take effect January 16, 2018, but compliance is not mandatory until August 19, 2019. A press release issued by the House Financial Services Committee in support of the resolution stated, “small-dollar loans are already regulated by all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Native American tribes. The CFPB’s rule would mark the first time the federal government has gotten involved in the regulation of these loans.”

    On December 5, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a letter to Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) stating that CFPB Bulletin 2013-02 (Bulletin) on indirect auto lending and compliance with the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) is a “general statement of policy and a rule” that is subject to override under the CRA. According to GAO, the CRA’s definition of a “rule” includes both traditional rules, which typically require notice to the public and an opportunity to comment, and general statements of policy, which do not. GAO concluded that the Bulletin meets this definition “since it applies to all indirect auto lenders; it has future effect; and it is designed to prescribe the Bureau’s policy in enforcing fair lending laws.” GAO’s decision may allow Congress to repeal the four year old Bulletin through a House and Senate majority vote under the CRA, followed by the President’s signature. Sen. Toomey issued a statement saying, “I intend to do everything in my power to repeal this ill-conceived rule using the [CRA].”

    Additionally, and as expected, on December 5, former Director Richard Cordray officially announced his candidacy for governor of Ohio.

    Federal Issues CFPB Succession Courts CFPB CRA Auto Finance Fair Lending Payday Lending

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  • SEC Obtains Emergency Court Order Against Canadian Firm for Allegedly Violating Federal Securities Law; Halts Initial Coin Offering

    Securities

    On December 4, the SEC announced it had obtained an emergency court order to freeze the assets of a Canadian company and the company’s founders (Defendants) and block Defendants’ ability to continue to raise funds through an initial coin offering (ICO). At the time the order was issued, the ICO had raised $15 million since August by “promising investors returns of 1,354% in under 29 days.” This is the first enforcement action taken by the SEC’s recently established Cyber Unit, whose focus includes distributed ledger technology and initial coin offering violations. (See previous InfoBytes Cyber Unit coverage here.)

    According to a complaint filed December 1 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Defendants allegedly violated the anti-fraud and registration provisions of U.S. federal securities laws by making a series of materially false and misleading statements when marketing and selling securities as digital tokens/cryptocurrencies to obtain investor funds. From August to the present, Defendants purportedly raised $15 million through the ICO, and made false representations including, among other things, that: (i) the firm consisted of large teams of experts across the globe, and (ii) investors would receive certain promised returns (1,354% in less than a month) on investments if all tokens were sold. Further, Defendants allegedly failed to disclose (i) that a portion of the proceeds from the ICO funds would pay personal expenses, and (ii) that the company’s principal executive was “a known recidivist securities law violator in Canada.” The SEC seeks relief in the form of permanent injunctions, monetary penalties and interest, and an “officer-and-director bar and a bar from offering digital securities” against the company’s founders.

    Securities SEC Initial Coin Offerings Enforcement Blockchain Cryptocurrency Fintech

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  • FinCEN Launches New Exchange to Enhance Information Sharing

    Financial Crimes

    On December 4, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) announced the release of the “FinCEN Exchange” program, which establishes regular briefings between FinCEN, law enforcement, and financial institutions to share high-priority information regarding potential national security threats and illicit financial transactions. Although private sector participation in the program is voluntary, FinCEN encourages involvement because the briefings may help financial institutions better identify risks and incorporate appropriate information into Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs). In addition, FinCen’s receipt of information will support its efforts to combat financial crimes, including money laundering.

    The CDD Rule became effective on July 11, 2016, and member firms must comply by May 11, 2018. FINRA advises members firms to consult the CDD Rule, along with FinCEN's related FAQs, to ensure AML program compliance.

    Financial Crimes FinCEN SARs Anti-Money Laundering

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  • FTC Settles With Dallas Auto Dealer for Alleged Deceptive Advertisements

    Lending

    On December 1, the FTC announced a proposed order to settle with a Dallas, Texas auto dealership for alleged deceptive advertisements containing loan and lease terms in Spanish-language newspapers. According to the FTC, the dealership violated the FTC Act by prominently displaying advantageous loan and lease terms in Spanish and qualifying those terms in smaller-print English at the bottom of the page. The FTC alleges the dealership misrepresented (i) the total cost of purchasing or leasing; (ii) the underwriting restrictions for the advertised loan or lease; and (iii) the availability of the inventory advertised. Additionally, the FTC alleged that the dealership violated Truth in Lending Act and the Consumer Leasing Act by failing to “clearly and conspicuously” disclose credit and lease terms. The proposal requires the dealership to cease the allegedly deceptive conduct and comply with all applicable advertisement regulations in the future. The proposal is published in the Federal Register and is open for public comment until January 2, 2018.

    Lending Auto Finance FTC Settlement FTC Act TILA CLA Federal Register

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  • Virginia AG Announces Settlement With Internet Lender Over Licensing Claims and Origination Fees

    State Issues

    On November 30, Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring announced a settlement with a Chicago-based “open-end credit plan internet lender” to resolve alleged violations of the Virginia Consumer Protection Act (VCPA). Specifically, the Attorney General’s Office alleged that the lender misrepresented that it was licensed to conduct lending activity in Virginia and charged unlawful origination fees during a statutorily required grace period. According to a press release issued by the Attorney General’s office, the settlement requires the lender to provide more than $3 million of refunds and interest forgiveness to borrowers, and pay the state $30,000 in civil money penalties, costs, and fees. The settlement also contains a permanent injunction that prohibits the lender from misrepresenting its status as a licensed Virginia lender and violating the VCPA.

    State Issues State AG Consumer Finance Anti-Predatory Lending Settlement

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