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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

District Court orders mortgage company founder to pay $500,000 FIRREA fine in mortgage fraud suit

Courts False Claims Act / FIRREA Mortgages HUD


On July 10, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois ordered the founder and president of a mortgage company to pay $500,000 in a suit brought under the False Claims Act (FCA) and the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act (FIRREA). The suit accused the defendant of allegedly submitting fraudulent certifications certifying he was not under criminal indictment in order to participate in HUD’s Federal Housing Administration mortgage insurance program. (Certification is necessary to participate in the FHA program.) In 2016, the defendant appealed to the 7th Circuit that the district court’s ruling—which originally ordered approximately $10 million in treble damages and $16,500 in penalties under the FCA—had been held to the wrong causation standard. In 2017, the appellate court issued an opinion referring to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Universal Health Services, Inc. v. U.S. ex rel. Escobar, holding that in this matter, the district court had improperly relied on a “but for” causation standard for FCA liability, and had failed to adequately develop whether the defendant’s “falsehood was the proximate cause of the government’s harm.”

On remand, the district court found that the government's losses were not proximately caused by the defendant’s form certifications, and thus failed to satisfy the proximate cause standard for damages in a FCA suit. The district court ordered the defendant to pay $500,000 for making false statements to HUD in violation of FIRREA. “Half a million dollars is a substantial sum of money, and it reflects the seriousness of [the defendant’s] wrongdoing over a series of years, as well as the fact that there is no good-faith explanation for his actions,” the court stated. The court further elaborated that “[a]t the same time, [the fine] also reflects that [the defendant’s] conduct, while serious, does not put him within the worst class of FIRREA violators.”

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