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CFTC, SEC settle with foreign trading platform conducting Bitcoin transactions without proper registration
On March 4, the CFTC resolved an action taken against a foreign trading platform and its CEO (defendants) for allegedly offering and selling security-based swaps to U.S. customers without registering as a futures commission merchant or designated contract market with the CFTC. The CFTC alleged that the platform permitted customers to transact in “contracts for difference,” which were transactions to exchange the difference in value of an underlying asset between the time at which the trading position was established and the time at which it was terminated. The transactions were initiated through, and settled in, Bitcoin. The CFTC alleged that these transactions constituted “retail commodity transactions,” which would have required the platform to receive the proper registration.
According to the CFTC, the defendants, among other things, (i) neglected to register as a futures commission merchant with the CFTC; and (ii) failed to comply with required anti-money laundering procedures, including implementing an adequate know-your-customer/customer identification program. The consent order entered by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia imposes a civil monetary penalty of $175,000 and requires the disgorgement of $246,000 of gains. The consent order also requires the defendants to certify to the CFTC the liquidation of all U.S. customer accounts and the repayment of approximately $570,000 worth of Bitcoins to U.S. customers.
In a parallel action, the SEC entered into a final judgment the same day to resolve claims that, among other things, the defendants failed to properly register as a security-based swaps dealer. The defendants are permanently restrained and enjoined from future violations of the Securities Act of 1933 and are required to pay disgorgement of approximately $53,393.
On February 28, the Federal Reserve Board announced an enforcement action against a bank holding company for alleged internal control deficiencies, resulting in unsafe and unsound practices in violation of the Federal Deposit Insurance Act that caused a financial loss to the company. The consent order acknowledges that the company has since addressed the deficiencies that contributed to the loss and implemented additional improvements in its internal controls and audit programs. The Federal Reserve Board assessed a civil money penalty of $1,012,500.
On February 27, the FTC announced a $5.7 million settlement with the operators of a video social networking app concerning alleged violations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Case (COPPA). Among other things, the FTC claims the operators failed to provide parents notice of its information collection practices, illegally collected personal information from children under the age of 13 without first obtaining verifiable parental consent, failed to delete personal information when parents requested, and retained information “longer than reasonably necessary to fulfill the purpose for which the information was collected.” Under COPPA, operators of websites and online services directed at children are prohibited from collecting personal information of children under the age of 13, unless the company has explicit parental consent. The FTC alleges that the operators knew a “significant percentage” of its users were under 13 and received thousands of complaints from parents that their children under 13 had created accounts on the app. While neither admitting nor denying the allegations, the operators have agreed to the monetary penalty, will change their business practices to comply with COPPA, and will remove all videos made by children younger than 13. According to the FTC, this settlement is the largest civil penalty obtained to date by the agency for COPPA violations.
On January 25, New York City’s Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) announced that the city’s largest used car dealership must pay more than $3 million in civil penalties after the city’s Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings concluded the dealership used deceptive and illegal practices to profit from low-income and minority consumers. According to the decision, DCA alleged that the dealership engaged in over 90,000 instances of deceptive trade practice in violation of various consumer protection laws, including, among other things, (i) falsifying consumers’ income and/or monthly rent obligations on credit applications; (ii) falsely advertising the financial terms of deals in print and online; (iii) failing to provide documents in Spanish to certain Spanish-speaking consumers; and (iv) misleading consumers about the history and condition of the used cars they purchased. The administrative law judge declined to revoke the dealership’s license, as originally sought by DCA.
This fine is in addition to the settlement agreement between DCA and the used car dealership that required the dealership to pay nearly $142,000 in restitution to 40 consumers and pay $68,000 to cover outstanding loans originated as a result of the allegedly deceptive actions.
District Court orders mortgage company to pay $260,000 in civil money penalties for deceiving veterans about refinance benefits
On December 21, the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada ordered a non-bank mortgage company to pay $268,869 in redress to consumers and a civil penalty of $260,000 in an action brought by the CFPB for engaging in allegedly deceptive lending practices to veterans about the benefits of refinancing their mortgages. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the CFPB had alleged that, during in-home presentations, the company used flawed “apples to apples” comparisons between the consumers’ mortgages and a Department of Veterans Affairs’ Interest Rate Reduction Refinancing Loan. According to the Bureau, the presentations misrepresented the cost savings of the refinance by (i) inflating the future amount of principal owed under the existing mortgage; (ii) overestimating the future loan’s term, which underestimated the future monthly payments; and (iii) overestimating the total monthly benefit of the loan after the first month. In addition to the monetary penalties, the order prohibits the company from misrepresenting the terms or benefits of mortgage refinancing and requires the company to submit a compliance plan to the Bureau.
On December 6, the CFPB announced the filing of a complaint and proposed final judgment in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada against a non-bank mortgage company for allegedly deceiving veterans about the benefits of refinancing their mortgages in violation of the Consumer Financial Protection Act. According to the complaint, during in-home presentations, the company would allegedly use flawed “apples to apples” comparisons between the consumers’ mortgages and an Interest Rate Reduction Refinancing Loan (a loan, guaranteed by the Department of Veterans Affairs, which allows veterans to refinance mortgages at lower interest rates). The Bureau alleges the presentations misrepresented the future cost savings of the refinance by (i) inflating the future amount of principal owed under the existing mortgage; (ii) overestimating the future loan’s term, which underestimated the future monthly payments; and (iii) overestimating the total monthly benefit of the loan after the first month.
If ordered by the court, the judgment would require the company to pay $268,869 in redress to consumers and a civil penalty of $260,000; it would also prohibit the company from misrepresenting the terms or benefits of mortgage refinancing.
On November 1, the FTC announced a joint action with the New York Attorney General against a New York-based debt collection company for allegedly violating the FTC Act, the FDCPA, and New York state law by using false or deceptive tactics to collect money from consumers, sometimes resulting in the consumer paying more than what they allegedly owed. According to the complaint, the company’s employees threatened consumers with arrest or lawsuits while falsely posing as law enforcement officials or attorneys. Additionally, the employees allegedly added “more pressure” to consumers by telling them they owed more than the company’s records indicated they did, using forms to show a higher balance than the actual client balance—a practice known as “overbiffing.” On October 25, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York granted a temporary restraining order, halting the company’s allegedly illegal activity and freezing the company’s assets. The complaint seeks a (i) permanent injunction; (ii) consumer redress; and (iii) civil money penalties under New York law.
Interestingly, as covered by InfoBytes here, FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra issued a concurring statement in another recent FTC action, suggesting the FTC should seek to partner with other enforcement agencies that have the authority to obtain monetary settlements from FTC targets. In this complaint, the New York Attorney General is seeking civil money penalties against the debt collectors under New York General Business Law § 350-d.
On October 12, the CFPB published an amendment to its rule regarding inflation adjustments for the maximum amount of each civil penalty within its jurisdiction, pursuant to the 2015 Inflation Adjustment Act amendments. Under the Bureau’s amendment, adjusted penalty amounts would only apply to assessments with associated violations occurring on, or after, November 2, 2015. The Bureau noted that because the amendment “would limit the civil penalties covered persons may pay, the proposed rule would not impose any additional costs on them. Nor does the rule impose any new, affirmative duty on any small entity or change any existing requirements on small entities, and thus no small entity who is currently complying with the laws that the Bureau enforces will incur any expense from the amended rule.” Comments must be received by November 13.
OFAC reaches $1.5 million settlement with electronics company for alleged Iranian sanctions violations
On September 13, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a $1.5 million settlement with a California-based electronics company for alleged violations of the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations when it sold equipment to a Dubai-based distributor it knew or had reason to know distributed most, if not all, of its products to Iran. The settlement resolves litigation between the California company and OFAC stemming from a 2014 lawsuit challenging OFAC’s initial $4.07 million civil penalty. While the lower count ultimately granted summary judgment in favor of OFAC after finding enough evidence that the company knew the distributor’s business was primarily in Iran at the time the shipments were made, upon appeal, the D.C. Circuit reached a split decision in May 2017 setting aside OFAC’s initial penalty. While the appellate court affirmed that 34 of 39 shipments in question were in violation of the sanctions regulations, the company had produced emails indicating that the other shipments were intended for a retail store in Dubai. Because the penalty was calculated in such a way that the two shipments categories were “intertwined,” the court remanded the matter to OFAC for further consideration of the total penalty calculation.
In arriving at the settlement amount, OFAC considered the following aggravating factors: (i) “the [a]lleged [v]iolations constituted or resulted in a systematic pattern of conduct”; (ii) the company exported goods valued at over $2.8 million; and (iii) the company had no compliance program in place at the time of the alleged violations. However, OFAC also considered mitigating factors such as the company’s status as a small business, the company not receiving a penalty or finding of a violation in the five years prior to the transactions at issue, and some cooperation with OFAC. OFAC further noted that following litigation, the company “took additional remedial actions to address the conduct that led to the [a]lleged [v]iolations, including terminating its relationship with [the Dubai-based distributor] and instituting an OFAC sanctions compliance program.”
On August 31, the FDIC announced a list of administrative enforcement actions taken against banks and individuals in July. The 15 orders include “three Section 19 orders; four removal and prohibition orders; one civil money penalty; three terminations of consent orders; and four adjudicated decisions.” The FDIC assessed a $10,800 civil money penalty against a New Mexico-based bank for alleged violations of the Flood Disaster Protection Act in connection with alleged failures to (i) obtain flood insurance coverage on loans at or before origination or renewal; (ii) maintain flood insurance; (iii) notify borrowers that they were required to obtain flood insurance; and (iv) obtain flood insurance on a borrower’s behalf when the borrower did not obtain insurance within 45 days after receiving such notification. There are no administrative hearings scheduled for September 2018. The FDIC database containing all 15 enforcement decisions and orders may be accessed here.
- Sasha Leonhardt and John B. Williams to discuss "Privacy" at the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions Spring Regulatory Compliance School
- Aaron C. Mahler to discuss "Regulation B/fair lending" at the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions Spring Regulatory Compliance School
- Heidi M. Bauer and Dan Ladd to discuss "'So you want to form a joint venture' — Licensing strategies for successful JVs" at RESPRO26
- Tim Lange to discuss "Update from 2019 NMLS Conference" at the California Mortgage Bankers Association Mortgage Quality & Compliance Committee webinar
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Small business & regulation: How fair lending has evolved & where are we heading?" at CBA Live
- Jonice Gray Tucker to to discuss "DC policy: Everything but the kitchen sink" at CBA Live
- Jon David D. Langlois to discuss "Transaction management-issues surrounding purchase & sale agreements, post acquisition integration & trailing docs" at the Investment Management Network Residential Mortgage Servicing Rights Forum
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Lessons learned from ABLV and other major cases involving inadequate compliance oversight" at the ACAMS International AML & Financial Crime Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "A year in the life of the CDD final rule: A first anniversary assessment" at the ACAMS International AML & Financial Crime Conference
- Moorari K. Shah to discuss "State regulatory and disclosures" at the Equipment Leasing and Finance Association Legal Forum
- Hank Asbill to discuss "Creative character evidence in criminal and civil trials" at the Litigation Counsel of America Spring Conference & Celebration of Fellows
- Brandy A. Hood to discuss "Flood NFIP in the age of extreme weather events" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss "UDAAP compliance" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Kathryn L. Ryan to discuss "State examination/enforcement trends" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Benjamin K. Olson to discuss "LO compensation" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Kathryn L. Ryan to discuss "Major state law developments" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Leveraging big data responsibly" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Hank Asbill to discuss "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain: Addressing prosecutions driven by hidden actors" at the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers West Coast White Collar Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Keep off the grass: Mitigating the risks of banking marijuana-related businesses" at the ACAMS AML Risk Management Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Mid-year policy update" at the ACAMS AML Risk Management Conference
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss "Requirements for banking inherently high-risk relationships" at the Georgia Bankers Association BSA Experience Program