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  • District Court Fines Mortgage Brokers More Than $298 Million for Alleged FCA/FIRREA Violations

    Courts

    On September 14, a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas ruled after a five-week jury trial that defendants, who allegedly submitted fraudulent insurance claims after acquiring risky loans, were liable for treble damages and the maximum civil penalties allowed under the False Claims Act (FCA) and the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act (FIRREA). According to the court, the evidence presented at trial demonstrated that the damages suffered by the U.S. were a “foreseeable consequence” of the defendants’ misconduct and that such misconduct was part of an “prolonged, consistent enterprise of defrauding the [U.S.],” warranting a higher level of penalties. The jury found that one of the defendants along with its CEO “submitted or caused to be submitted 103 insurance claims” while misrepresenting that its branches were registered by HUD, causing the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) to sustain damages in excess of $7 million. A separate mortgage broker defendant was found to have submitted or caused to be submitted 1,192 insurance claims causing over $256 million in damages to the FHA due to the “reckless” underwriting of loan applications, in violation of FCA. The court rejected the defendants’ request for lenient civil penalties, finding the defendants’ behavior to be “custom-designed to flout the very program that relied upon [defendants’] diligence and compliance” and demonstrating “a patent unwillingness to accept responsibility for their actions.” The FIRREA penalties resulted from defendants submitting false annual certifications to HUD that were intended “to serve as a separate and independent quality check on the [defendant’s] branches,” but instead led to injury in the form of borrowers entering into default or foreclosures, as well as elevated mortgage insurance premiums.

    The judge imposed over $291 million in FCA treble damages and penalties against the three defendants. Additionally, each defendant was fined $2.2 million in FIRREA penalties for actions that “were neither isolated or relatively benign . . . [but] were reckless, egregious, and widely injurious.”

    Courts Lending Mortgages False Claims Act / FIRREA Litigation Insurance FHA HUD

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  • HUD Releases Mortgagee Letter Providing Home Equity Conversion Mortgage Servicing Implementation Guidance

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On August 24, HUD published Mortgagee Letter 2017-11, which provides directions for FHA-approved mortgagees to implement certain servicing policy changes outlined in the Federal Housing Administration: Strengthening the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage Program Final Rule (HECM Final Rule), published in the Federal Register in January 2017. The HECM Final Rule’s servicing requirements (including the additional guidance set forth in Mortgagee Letter 2017-11), will take effect for all FHA case numbers assigned on or after September 19, 2017. The Mortgagee Letter furnishes additional details on the following areas of servicing policy included in the HECM Final Rule: (i) “Default for Unpaid Property Charges”; (ii) “Sale of Property Securing a Due and Payable HECM”; and (iii) “Cash for Keys Incentive and Relocation Incentive.”

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance HUD FHA Mortgage Servicing Federal Register Home Equity Loans HECM

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  • DOJ Announces Settlements with Non-Bank Mortgage Lender to Resolve Alleged False Claims Act Violations

    Lending

    On August 8, the DOJ announced a $74.5 million settlement with a non-bank mortgage lender and certain affiliates to resolve potential claims that they violated the False Claims Act by knowingly originating and underwriting mortgage loans insured by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Veterans Administration (VA), and by selling certain loans to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that did not meet applicable requirements. According to the terms of the two settlement agreements, $65 million of the settlement will be paid to resolve allegations relating to FHA loans, and $9.45 million will be paid to resolve potential civil claims relating to certain specified VA, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac loans. The settlements also fully resolved a False Claims Act qui tam lawsuit that had been pending in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

    The settlement included no admission of liability by the lender. The lender issued a statement responding to the settlements: “We have agreed to resolve these matters, which cover certain legacy origination and underwriting activities, without admitting liability, in order to avoid the distraction and expense of potential litigation. While we cooperated fully in these investigations since receiving subpoenas in 2013, we concluded that settling these matters is in the best interest of [the company] and its constituents.”

    Lending Mortgages False Claims Act / FIRREA Mortgage Origination HUD Fannie Mae Freddie Mac FHA Settlement DOJ Nonbank Supervision

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  • HUD-OIG Report: Single-Family Note Sales Program Failed to Follow Rulemaking Requirements

    Lending

    On July 14, the HUD Office of Inspector General (HUD-OIG) published a report on HUD’s rulemaking process for its single-family note sales program, now referred to as the Distressed Asset Stabilization Program (DASP), under which HUD has sold more than 108,000 notes with over $18 billion in unpaid principal balances. According to the report, HUD-OIG conducted an audit to determine whether HUD adhered to open public rulemaking requirements when it implemented the program. The report concluded that while HUD issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking in 2006, it did not finalize the comment process or prepare the program for a final rule. The report further stated that there was a lack of formal guidance and procedures for the program, stating that “[s]ince its inception, HUD has issued 31 enhancements, or changes, to its single-family note sales program . . . [but does not have] a handbook or guidebook that establishe[s] its formal requirements or policies for the administration of the program.”

    As a result, HUD-OIG recommended that HUD (i) “[c]omplete the rulemaking process for [its] single-family note sales program,” and (ii) “[d]evelop and implement formal procedures and guidance for the note sales program.”

    Lending HUD Mortgages OIG Federal Register

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  • House Appropriations Committee Approves Fiscal Year 2018 Funding Bills Affecting Housing and Urban Development, and Cybersecurity

    Federal Issues

    On July 17, the House Appropriations Committee (Committee) approved the fiscal year 2018 transportation, housing and urban development funding bill by a vote of 31-20. Of the total $56.5 billion in funding provided by the bill, $38.3 billion is allocated to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for community planning and development, which is $487 million below fiscal year 2017 but $6.9 billion above President Trump’s request. According to Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, the bill “includes responsible funding to ensure communities across the nation have access to necessary community development funds, and [will] provide housing to those who need it the most – including the poor, elderly, and disabled.”

    • A summary of the bill is available here.
    • A copy of the legislative text of the bill is available here.
    • A copy of the bill report is available here.

    On July 18, the Committee approved the fiscal year 2018 homeland security bill by a vote of 30-22. The bill allocates $703 million to cybersecurity programs, which is $18 million less than President Trump’s request but $33 million above fiscal 2017 levels.

    • A summary of the bill is available here.
    • A copy of the legislative text of the bill is available here.
    • A copy of the bill report is available here.

    Federal Issues Federal Legislation Financial CHOICE Act HUD Budget House Appropriations Committee Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security

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  • ABA, State Bankers Associations Respond to HUD’s Request for Comment; Discuss Need to Clarify Disparate Impact

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On May 15, HUD issued a request for comment on its review of regulations as required by Executive Order 13777, which compels each agency to review and carry out regulatory reform. According to the request for comment, the self-assessment will address suggestions for “specific current regulations that may be outdated, ineffective, or excessively burdensome, and therefore, warranting repeal, replacement, or modification.” The request, which closed for public comment on June 14, received 100 comments from state bankers associations, financial institutions, and individuals.

    American Bankers Association (ABA) and State Bankers Associations. On June 14, a joint comment letter was sent on behalf of the ABA and state bankers associations representing all 50 states. A key issue raised by the letter was that HUD adopted an incorrect and improper standard for disparate impact liability in its rule implementing the Fair Housing Act’s discriminatory effects standard—a rule the groups calls “outdated and legally wrong.” Under the terms of the rule, HUD provided that “[l]iability may be established under the Fair Housing Act based on a practice’s discriminatory effect . . . even if the practice was not motivated by a discriminatory intent” and then articulated a burden shifting framework for such claims in which a plaintiff can establish a prima facie case using statistics alone. However, the groups claim that the burden shifting framework conflicts with a Supreme Court decision in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, and assert that “a case premised on statistics alone is a prime example of an abuse of disparate impact.” The groups further wonder if HUD will “maintain the supervisory view that statistics alone can establish a prima facie case, as stated in the [r]ule[.]” It is the opinion of the groups that the Supreme Court enforced strict limitations of the use of disparate impact—“in stark contrast to the Rule’s approach”—in order to “avoid injecting the consideration of race into decision making and . . . address important constitutional concerns.” Thus, “[a] rule that creates, rather than eliminates, confusion undermines its own purpose and is entirely ineffective.” Furthermore, the letter (i) indicates that the groups are willing to engage in discussions with HUD on the topic of disparate impact, and (ii) raises the issue of whether a revised rule or a reopening of comments on the existing rule are in order.

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance ABA HUD Fair Housing Disparate Impact

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  • DOJ Intervenes in False Claims Act Litigation Against City of Los Angeles for Alleged Misuse of HUD Funds

    Courts

    On June 7, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that the United States has intervened (see proposed order here) in a lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles (City) alleging that the City misused Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funds intended for affordable housing that is accessible to people with disabilities. See U.S. ex rel Ling et al v. City of Los Angeles et al, No. 11-00974 (D.C. Cal. 2017).

    The DOJ joins in the lawsuit originally instituted by a disabled Los Angeles resident, who filed the False Claims Act (FCA) suit as a whistleblower. The FCA whistleblower provision allows private citizens to file suit on behalf of the government and likewise permits the government to intervene in the suit. Together, the DOJ and the whistleblower allege that the City and a city agency called the CRA/LA falsely certified compliance with federal accessibility laws, including the Fair Housing Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act as well as the duty to further fair housing in the City, in order to receive millions of dollars in HUD housing grants.

    As recipients of the HUD funds, the City and the CRA/LA were obligated to ensure that (i) “five percent of all units in certain federally-assisted multifamily housing be accessible for people with mobility impairments”; (ii) “an additional two percent be accessible for people with visual and auditory impairments”; (iii) “the City and the CRA/LA maintain a publicly available list of accessible units and their accessibility features”; (iv) “the City and the CRA/LA have a monitoring program in place to ensure people with disabilities are not excluded from participation in, denied the benefits of, or otherwise subjected to discrimination in, federally-assisted housing programs and activities solely on the basis of a disability.” The false certifications resulted in too few accessible housing units, the suit claims.

    The City denies the allegations.

    Courts HUD Litigation Fraud False Claims Act / FIRREA Whistleblower Fair Housing DOJ

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  • President Trump Releases 2018 Budget Proposal; Key Areas of Reform Target Financial Regulators, Cybersecurity, and Student Loans

    Federal Issues

    On May 23, the White House released its fiscal 2018 budget request, A New Foundation for American Greatness, along with Major Savings and Reforms, which set forth the President’s funding proposals and priorities. The mission of the President’s budget is to bring spending under control by proposing savings of $57.3 billion in discretionary programs, including $26.7 billion in program eliminations and $30.6 billion in reductions.

    Financial Regulators. The budget stresses the importance of reducing the cost of complying with “burdensome financial regulations” adopted by independent agencies under the Dodd-Frank Act. However, the proposal provides few details about how the reform applies to federal financial services regulators. Identifying the CFPB specifically, the budget states that restructuring the Bureau is necessary in order to “ensure appropriate congressional oversight and to refocus [the] CFPB’s efforts on enforcing the law rather than impeding free commerce.” Major Savings and Reforms assert that subjecting the Bureau to the congressional appropriations process would “impose financial discipline and prevent future overreach of the Agency into consumer advocacy and activism.” The budget projects further savings of $35 billion through the end of 2027, resulting from legal, regulatory, and policy changes to be recommended by the Treasury once it completes its effectiveness review of existing laws and regulations in collaboration with the Financial Stability Oversight Council. The Treasury review is being performed as a result of the Executive Order on Core Principals.

    Dept. of Housing and Urban Development. As previously reported in InfoBytes, the budget proposes that funding be eliminated for the following: (i) small grant programs such as the Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program, which includes, among others, the Capacity Building for Community Development and Affordable Housing Program (a savings of $56 million); (ii) the CHOICE Neighborhoods program (a savings of $125 million), stating state and local governments should fund strategies for neighborhood revitalization; (iii) the Community Development Block Grant (a savings of $2.9 billion), over claims that it “has not demonstrated results”; and (iv) the HOME Investment Partnerships Programs (a savings of $948 million). The budget also proposes reductions to the Native American Housing Block Grant and plans to reduce costs across HUD’s rental assistance programs through legislative reforms. Rental assistance programs generally comprise about 80 percent of HUD’s total funding.

    Cybersecurity. The budget states that it “supports the President’s focus on cybersecurity to ensure strong programs and technology to defend the Federal networks that serve the American people, and continues efforts to share information, standards, and best practices with critical infrastructure and American businesses to keep them secure.” Law enforcement and cybersecurity personnel across the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Department of Defense, and the FBI will see budget increases to execute efforts to counter cybercrime. Furthermore, the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center—which DHS uses to respond to infrastructure cyberattacks—will receive an increase under the budget.

    Student Loan Reform. Under the proposed budget, a single income driven repayment plan (IDR) would be created that caps monthly payments at 12.5 percent of discretionary income—an increase from the 10 percent cap some current payment plans offer. Furthermore, balances would be forgiven after a specific number of repayment years—15 for undergraduate debt, 30 for graduate. In doing so, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program and subsidized loans will be eliminated, and reforms will be established to “guarantee that borrowers in IDR pay an equitable share of their income.” These proposals will only apply to loans originated on or after July 1, 2018, with the exception of loans provided to borrowers in order to finish their “current course of study.”

    Dept. of the Treasury. The budget proposes to, among other things: (i) eliminate funding for new Community Development Financial Institutions Fund grants (a savings of $220 million); and (ii) reduce funding for the Troubled Asset Relief Program by 50 percent, “commensurate with the wind-down of TARP programs” (a savings of $21 million).

    Response from Treasury. In a statement released by the Treasury, Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said the budget “prioritizes investments in cybersecurity, and maintains critical funding to implement sanctions, combat terrorist financing, and protect financial institutions from threats.” Furthermore, it also would “achieve savings through reforms that prevent taxpayer bailouts and reverse burdensome regulations that have been harmful to small businesses and American workers.”

    Federal Issues Treasury Department HUD Budget Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security Student Lending Bank Regulatory FSOC Trump

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  • National Fair Housing Alliance Settles Lending Discrimination Claims Brought Against National Bank

    Lending

    On May 19, the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) announced it had reached an agreement with a major national bank (Bank) related to a housing discrimination complaint the NFHA filed with HUD in 2014. The complainant alleges that NFHA conducted a series of tests over a period of several months revealing a “pattern of discriminatory conduct.” Latino prospective qualified borrowers were often quoted higher monthly payment and closing costs and were denied opportunities to speak with loan officers. The complainants also cited data showing that the number of purchase loan applications received from Latinos had declined over the past few years. While the Bank denied all allegations in the complaint, it agreed to contribute more than $400,000 towards fair housing efforts in South Carolina and nationwide. Separately, the original complaint led to HUD filing charges against the Bank last December on behalf of the NFHA for lending discrimination—citing, in particular, that prospective Latino borrowers were treated less favorably than non-Latinos, in violation of the Fair Housing Act.

    Lending HUD Enforcement Fair Lending Mortgage Lenders

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  • HUD Issues Restated Consolidated Financial Statements for 2016 and 2015 Correcting $520 Billion in Errors

    Federal Issues

    On March 1, HUD-OIG  issued an Independent Auditor's Report (Auditor’s Report) (2017-FO-0005) on HUD’s fiscal years 2016 and 2015 (Restated) consolidated financial statements.  The Auditor’s Report—issued in accordance with the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990—revealed, among other things, eleven “material weaknesses,” seven “significant deficiencies,” and five “instances of noncompliance” with applicable laws and regulations.  Each of these findings related to what the auditor described as HUD’s “inability to establish a compliant control environment, implement adequate financial accounting systems, retain key financial staff, and identify appropriate accounting principles and policies.” The dollar amount of errors corrected in HUD’s 2016 and 2015 notes and consolidated financial statements were $516.4 billion and $3.4 billion, respectively. The Auditor’s Report further noted that there were several “unresolved audit matters,” which “restricted [the auditor’s] ability to obtain sufficient, appropriate evidence to express an opinion. Based on these observed issues, the Auditor’s Report recommended, among other things, that HUD (i) reassess its current consolidated financial statement and notes review process to ensure that sufficient internal controls are in place to prevent and detect errors; (ii) evaluate the current content of HUD’s consolidated note disclosures to ensure compliance with regulations and GAAP; and (iii) develop a plan to ensure that restatements are properly reflected in all notes impacted.

    Testimony before the House Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development. On March 16, shortly after the Restated Financial Statements and Auditor’s Report were released, David A. Montoya, Inspector General of HUD, testified before the House Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies concerning, among other things, “HUD’s inability to maintain an effective financial management governance structure, which [the OIG has] reported on for the last 3 years and which contributed to [the OIG’s] issuing disclaimers of opinion as part of [their] annual audits of HUD’s financial statements.”

    • A link to an archived webcast of Hearing can be accessed here.
    • A copy of the Inspector General’s Testimony before the House Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development can be accessed here.

    A copy of the Inspector General’s October 2016 Statement Summarizing the Major Management and Performance Challenges Facing HUD for Fiscal Year 2017 and Beyond can be found here.

    Federal Issues HUD OIG

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