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On November 8, the DOJ announced it filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York against an international bank and several of its U.S. affiliates for allegedly defrauding investors in connection with the sale of residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) from 2006 through 2007. Specifically, the DOJ alleges the bank violated the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act (FIRREA) based on mail fraud, wire fraud, bank fraud, and other misconduct by “knowingly and repeatedly” making false and fraudulent representations to investors about the quality of the loans backing 40 RMBS deals. The DOJ is seeking an unspecified amount of civil money penalties under five FIRREA claims.
In response to the filing, the international bank issued a statement indicating that it intends to “contest the complaint vigorously,” arguing, among other things, that the risks of RMBS investments were clearly disclosed to investors and that the bank suffered its own losses from investing in the RMBS referred to in the DOJ complaint.
Money services business agrees to extend DOJ deferred prosecution agreement; settles FTC order breach
On November 8, the DOJ announced that a money services business has agreed to forfeit $125 million and extend its deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) due to deficiencies in its anti-fraud and anti-money laundering (AML) programs. The global settlement also resolves contempt allegations brought by the FTC related to the violation of a 2009 FTC order, which mandated that the company implement a comprehensive fraud prevention program.
The DOJ filed charges against the company in 2012 for allegedly “willfully failing to maintain an effective AML program and aiding and abetting wire fraud,” including scams targeting the elderly and other vulnerable groups that involved victims sending funds through the company’s money transfer system. In connection with the DOJ’s and company’s joint motion to extend and amend the DPA, the DOJ announced that the company: (i) experienced significant weaknesses in its AML and anti-fraud program; (ii) inadequately disclosed these weaknesses to the government; and (iii) failed to complete all of the DPA’s required enhanced compliance undertakings, resulting in the processing of at least $125 million additional consumer fraud transactions between April 2015 and October 2016. Under the amendment to and extension of the DPA—in effect until May 2021—the company has agreed to, among other things, comply with additional enhanced anti-fraud and AML compliance obligations.
In a related matter, the FTC filed a motion for compensatory relief and modified order for permanent injunction, which alleges that the company failed to adopt and implement a comprehensive fraud prevention program mandated by the 2009 order. The motion indicates that the company has agreed to the entry of an order modifying the 2009 Order to include a broader range of relief, including a requirement to interdict (or block) the transfers of known fraudsters and provide refunds for non-compliance with certain policies or procedures.
On November 2, a New York-based financial institution disclosed in its Form 10-Q filing that it had received subpoenas and requests for documents and information from multiple government agencies as part of investigations relating to matters involving a Malaysian development fund. The filing acknowledged the indictments and guilty plea of a former participating managing director of the financial institution, and a former managing director, which indicated that they “knowingly and willfully circumvented” the financial institution’s internal accounting controls. The filing further stated that the financial institution is cooperating with the DOJ and other investigations relating to the company.
On November 2, the DOJ announced a $95,000 settlement with a credit union resolving allegations that the credit union violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) by repossessing vehicles owned by servicemembers without first obtaining the required court orders. According to the complaint, which was filed on the same day the settlement was announced, the DOJ launched an investigation into the credit union’s repossession practices after learning of two private complaints filed against the credit union for alleged SCRA violations. Through the investigation, the DOJ discovered additional violations and that the credit union did not have policies and procedures that addressed non-judicial auto repossessions against servicemembers until August 2014. Under the terms of the settlement, the credit union is required to pay $65,000 to compensate affected servicemembers and a civil money penalty of $30,000. In addition, the company must submit its employee SCRA training materials for approval and complete reporting, record-keeping, and monitoring requirements.
On October 30, the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Florida filed a lawsuit against a Florida legal services provider and two of its officers (defendants) for allegedly violating the Fair Housing Act by “intentionally discriminating against Hispanic homeowners by targeting them with a predatory mortgage loan modification and foreclosure rescue services scheme.” Specifically, the complaint alleges that the defendants, among other things, (i) targeted borrowers through the use of Spanish-language advertisements that allegedly promised to cut mortgage payments in half; (ii) promised payments would be lowered “in a specific timeframe in exchange for thousands of dollars of upfront fees and continuing monthly fees of as much as $550,” without delivering the promised loan modifications; (iii) instructed borrowers to stop making monthly mortgage payments and to stop communicating with their lenders; and (iv) had borrowers sign English-language contracts while only translating the provisions regarding payment. The complaint seeks to enjoin the defendants from participating in discriminatory activities on the basis of national origin, and requests monetary damages and civil penalties.
On October 19, the DOJ announced a $13.2 million settlement with a mortgage lender resolving allegations that the company violated the False Claims Act (FCA) by falsely certifying compliance with the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) mortgage insurance requirements in violation of the False Claims Act (FCA). Specifically, the government alleged that, between 2006 and 2011, the lender failed to follow proper mortgage underwriting and certification rules as a participant in the direct endorsement lender program and knowingly submitted loans for FHA insurance that did not qualify. Additionally, DOJ alleged that the lender “improperly incentivized underwriters and knowingly failed to perform quality control reviews.” Under the direct endorsement lender program, FHA does not review a loan for compliance with FHA requirements before it is endorsed for FHA insurance; accordingly lenders are required to follow rules designed to ensure that they are properly underwriting and certifying mortgages for FHA insurance. This settlement also resolves a related whistleblower lawsuit filed under the FCA, in which the former employee of a related entity will receive approximately $2 million.
On October 11, Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski issued a memorandum to the DOJ’s Criminal Division that revises the framework for assessing when DOJ will require a corporate monitor as part of a resolution.
Under the revised framework, Criminal Division attorneys must now consider whether the company’s “remedial measures” or changes to “corporate culture” are enough to protect against future misconduct. For instance, “[w]here misconduct occurred under different corporate leadership” that has since left the company, a monitor may not be needed. Criminal Division attorneys must also consider not just the monetary costs to the company of imposing a corporate monitor, but also the burden to the company’s operations, and should impose a monitor only when a “clear benefit” would outweigh the costs and burdens.
As AAG Benczkowski remarked in a speech given the day after the memorandum was issued, the new corporate monitor policy is based on the “foundational principle” that “the imposition of a corporate monitor is never meant to be punitive,” and a corporate monitor ultimately “will not be necessary in many corporate criminal resolutions.”
The memorandum also refines the monitor selection process with the goal of, as AAG Benczkowski described in his speech, ensuring “that the process is fair,” that the “best candidate” is selected, and that “even the perception of any conflicts of interest” is avoided.
On October 16, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York announced that the U.S. branch of a Japanese bank and several of its affiliates would settle claims related to the bank’s marketing, sale, and issuance of residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) in the lead-up to the 2008 financial crisis. In particular, the U.S. Attorney alleged that the bank, among other things, (i) misrepresented the effectiveness of its due diligence loan review procedures and the quality of the RMBS to investors; (ii) overruled due diligence warnings and allowed the securitization of loans that failed to comply with underwriting guidelines without investors’ knowledge; and (iii) continued to work with originators that “had ‘systemic’ underwriting issues and employed ‘questionable’ origination practices.” The bank disputes the allegations and does not admit to any liability or wrongdoing, but agreed to pay a $480 million civil money penalty pursuant to the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act to resolve the matter.
On October 9, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Colorado announced that an international bank would settle claims related to the bank’s packaging, securitizing, issuing, marketing and sale of residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) in the lead-up to the 2008 financial crisis. In particular, the U.S. alleged that (i) the bank’s due diligence loan review procedures disclosed to investors were not, in certain instances, followed; (ii) bank managers overruled due diligence vendors’ warnings regarding the quality of certain loans included in securitizations; and (iii) the bank misrepresented the quality of the RMBS to investors. The bank disputes the allegations and does not admit to any liability or wrongdoing, but agreed to pay a $765 million civil money penalty pursuant to the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act to resolve the matter.
On September 27, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Matthew Miner gave a speech that provided clarification of DOJ enforcement policies, continuing to emphasize voluntary disclosure and underscoring the notion that companies should view DOJ “as partners, not adversaries.” In his speech, Miner announced that DOJ’s FCPA Corporate Enforcement Policy is not limited to just FCPA violations, and that DOJ “will also look to these principles in the context of mergers and acquisitions that uncover other types of potential wrongdoing,” encouraging companies that discover such wrongdoing to voluntarily disclose it. Miner also pointed to recent published declinations, and noted that declinations under DOJ’s Policy can still be appropriate even when “aggravating circumstances” are present. Miner also referenced the increase in “global enforcement and cooperation with foreign authorities” and emphasized DOJ’s “Anti-Piling On Policy.”
- Tina Tchen to deliver keynote address at the American Bar Association Professional Success Summit
- Jeffrey P. Naimon and Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Enforcement and litigation trends" at the American Bankers Association General Counsel Meeting
- Andrea K. Mitchell to discuss "Developments in fair lending law" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Summit on Diversity and Inclusion
- David S. Krakoff to discuss "The DOJ corporate enforcement policy and your disclosure calculus one year in: Are companies benefitting?" at the American Conference Institute International Conference on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act
- Moorari K. Shah to discuss "Legal & regulatory issues" at the Opal Group Marketplace Lending & Alternative Financing Summit
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Hot topics in consumer financial services" at the Practising Law Institute Banking Law Institute
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "New CDD Rule: Pitfalls in compliance" at the American Bankers Association/American Bar Association Financial Crimes Enforcement Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Anti-money laundering/OFAC compliance" at the Institute of International Bankers U.S. Regulatory/Compliance Orientation Program