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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations


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  • OFAC reaches settlement with chemical manufacturer resolving Cuban sanctions violations

    Financial Crimes

    On February 14, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a $5.5 million settlement with a German chemical manufacturer for 304 alleged violations of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR). According to OFAC, the settlement resolves the manufacturer’s alleged involvement in fulfilling Cuban orders for chemical reagents on 304 invoices. Prior to and upon acquiring the manufacturer, an Illinois-based company sent warnings to the manufacturer that all Cuban transactions must be ceased, along with guidelines for complying with U.S. sanctions. OFAC noted, however, that the manufacturer designed and implemented a system to conceal its on-going transactions, engaged an external logistics company to handle shipping documents and declarations, and conducted training sessions for staff to ensure the system was concealed from the Illinois company.

    In arriving at the settlement amount, OFAC considered the following as aggravating factors: (i) the willful conduct of the manufacturer’s management; (ii) the utilization of written procedures to “engage in a pattern of conduct in violation of the CACR”; (iii) the number of transactions over an extended period of time “caused significant harm to the sanctions program objective of maintaining a comprehensive embargo on Cuba”; and (iv) the sophistication and revenue stream of the manufacturer, and the fact that it is a subsidiary of a large, international company.

    OFAC also considered several mitigating factors, including the Illinois company’s cooperation with OFAC, voluntary self-disclosure, and execution of a tolling agreement on behalf of the manufacturer. OFAC further stressed the importance of implementing risk-based controls and due-diligence procedures to ensure subsidiaries comply with OFAC sanction obligations.

    Visit here for additional InfoBytes coverage on Cuban sanctions.

    Financial Crimes OFAC Department of Treasury Cuba Sanctions Of Interest to Non-US Persons Settlement

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  • District Court approves final $2.5 million TCPA class action settlement


    On February 8, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia granted final approval to a $2.5 million putative class action settlement resolving allegations that a student loan servicer violated the TCPA by using an autodialer to contact student borrowers’ credit references without first obtaining their prior express consent. The settlement terms also require the servicer to pay more than $850,000 in attorneys’ fees and expenses. According to the plaintiff’s memorandum in support of its motion for preliminary approval of the class action settlement (as referenced in the final approval order), the servicer allegedly used an autodialer to contact the plaintiff’s cellphone without her prior express consent, which the servicer subsequently denied. The servicer had moved for summary judgment on multiple grounds, arguing, among other things, that the plaintiff could not establish that the servicer used an autodialer to place calls to her and other credit references listed on the delinquent student loans. Citing to the D.C. Circuit’s decision in ACA International v. FCC, which set aside the FCC’s 2015 interpretation of an autodialer as “unreasonably expansive,” (covered by a Buckley Special Alert), the servicer had argued that the decision “governs analysis of the issue” and that the plaintiff could not succeed in demonstrating that the telephone system used falls within the statutory definition of an autodialer. However, prior to the court issuing a ruling on the servicer’s summary judgment motion, the parties reached the approved settlement through mediation.

    Courts Student Lending Autodialer Settlement Attorney Fees

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  • University settles whistleblower FCA claims

    Federal Issues

    On February 11, the DOJ announced a $2.5 million settlement with a South Carolina university to resolve allegations that the university violated the False Claims Act (FCA) by submitting false claims to the U.S. Department of Education. According to the announcement, between 2014 and 2016, the university hired a company, which was partially owned by the university, to recruit students to the university and paid the company based on the number of students who enrolled in university programs, in violation of the prohibition on paying incentive compensation in Title IV of the Higher Education Act. The co-owner of the company originally brought a qui tam lawsuit against the university and will receive $375,000 from the settlement.

    Federal Issues DOJ Whistleblower Department of Education False Claims Act / FIRREA Incentive Compensation Settlement

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  • OFAC designates Turkish individual as “Foreign Sanctions Evader” in relation to settlement resolving alleged Iranian sanctions violations

    Financial Crimes

    On February 7, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a $13,381 settlement with a Virginia-based corporation on behalf of its Turkish affiliate for six alleged violations of the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (ITSR). The settlement resolves potential civil liability for the Turkish affiliate’s alleged practice of dispatching employees to Iran to fulfill service agreements and providing products, parts, and services while knowing that they were going to Iranian end-users. OFAC’s findings included that the Turkish affiliate willfully took steps to continue its Iranian business despite the Virginia corporation’s “extensive efforts to ensure [the affiliate] complied with the ITSR,” and “fraudulently certified” that no Iranian business was continuing.

    In arriving at the settlement amount, OFAC considered the following aggravating factors: (i) the Turkish affiliate violated Iranian sanctions by “willfully provid[ing] goods and services to Iran”; (ii) the Turkish affiliate’s management was aware of and directed its employees’ actions; (iii) the Turkish affiliate’s management took actions to delete and falsify records in an attempt to conceal the apparent violations; and (iv) the violations economically benefitted Iran.

    OFAC also considered numerous mitigating factors, including (i) neither the Virginia corporation nor the Turkish affiliate had received a penalty or finding of a violation in the five years prior to the transactions at issue; (ii) the Virginia corporation voluntarily self-disclosed the apparent violations and conducted an extensive internal investigation; and (iii) the Virginia corporation took “extensive preventative and remedial” measures.

    In a concurrent action the same day, OFAC sanctioned a Turkish individual as a “Foreign Sanctions Evader,” pursuant to Executive Order 13608, for allegedly instructing the Turkish affiliate to violate the Iranian sanctions. According to OFAC, the sanctioned individual “regularly and fraudulently” certified to the Virginia corporation that no products were being sent to Iran. Additionally, OFAC claims that upon learning of the corporation’s internal investigation, the individual and other members of the Turkish affiliate’s management team attempted to conceal the apparent violations. As a result, all direct and indirect transactions involving the individual intended for the U.S., or provided by or to U.S. persons, are prohibited. Moreover, U.S. financial institutions are instructed to reject payments involving the identified individual.

    View here for additional InfoBytes coverage of actions related to Iran.

    Financial Crimes OFAC Department of Treasury Settlement Iran Sanctions Of Interest to Non-US Persons

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  • DOJ settles with mortgage company for alleged SCRA violations

    Federal Issues

    On February 7, the DOJ announced a $750,000 settlement with a New Jersey-based mortgage company resolving allegations that the company violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) by foreclosing on homes owned by servicemembers without first obtaining the required court orders. The complaint, which was filed on the same day as the settlement, alleges that between 2010 and 2012 the company foreclosed on six homes of SCRA-protected servicemembers. Under the SCRA, lenders must obtain a court order before foreclosing on a servicemember’s home during, or within one year after, active military service, provided that the mortgage originated before the servicemember’s period of military service. The settlement requires the company to, among other things, (i) pay $125,000 to each affected servicemember; (ii) provide staff training to prevent unlawful foreclosures in the future; and (iii) notify the DOJ of future SCRA complaints.

    Federal Issues DOJ Foreclosure Mortgages Servicemembers Settlement SCRA

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  • CFPB announces settlement with payday lending operation

    Federal Issues

    On February 6, the CFPB announced a settlement with an Indiana-based payday retail lender and affiliates (companies) in seven states to resolve alleged violations of the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA), Truth in Lending Act (TILA), and Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA) privacy protections. The CFPB alleges that the companies engaged in unfair acts or practices, failed to properly disclose annual percentage rates, and failed to provide consumers with required initial privacy notices.

    Specifically, the Bureau alleges that the companies violated CFPA’s UDAAP provisions by, among other things, (i) failing to implement processes to prevent unauthorized charges, including those resulting from unauthorized draws on borrowers’ bank accounts; (ii) requiring loan applicants to provide contact information for their employers, supervisors, and four personal references, and then repeatedly calling employers to seek payments when borrowers became delinquent; (iii) disclosing the borrower’s financial information during those calls and, in certain instances, asking the third party to make payments on the loan; (iv) misusing personal references for marketing purposes; and (v) advertising check-cashing and telephone reconnection services they were no longer providing.

    The Bureau also asserts that the companies violated the GLBA by only providing initial privacy notices when consumers opened their first loan. GLBA requires financial services firms to provide borrowers a privacy policy each time a new customer relationship is established, which in this instance the CFPB claims, occurred each time a borrower paid off an outstanding loan and subsequently took out a new loan. Finally, the Bureau alleges that because the payday loans extended by the companies constitute as closed-end credit under TILA and Regulation Z, the companies were required to disclose a payday loan database fee charged to Kentucky customers in the APR but failed to do so. This resulted in, among other things, inaccurate APR disclosures in advertisements.

    While the companies have not admitted to the allegations, they have agreed to pay a $100,000 civil money penalty and are prohibited from continuing the illegal behavior.

    Federal Issues CFPB Enforcement Settlement Payday Lending CFPA Gramm-Leach-Bliley Regulation P Privacy Notices TILA Regulation Z APR UDAAP

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  • Bank settles ride-sharing overdraft suit for $22 million


    On January 31, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York granted final approval and class certification to a $22 million settlement resolving class action allegations that a national bank improperly charged overdraft fees on “one-time, non-recurring” transactions made with a ride-sharing company. The court found that the bank mischaracterized these one-time charges as recurring transactions, which allowed the bank to charge overdraft fees of $35. Prior to the court’s approval of the settlement, 12 state Attorneys General sent a letter to the court arguing that the agreement’s release of liability to the ride-sharing company was inequitable. The court found, however, that the release “does not compromise the fairness, reasonableness, and adequacy of the settlement,” where, among other things, plaintiffs’ counsel investigated the viability of claims against the ride-sharing company and concluded that litigation against the company could present problems for the proposed class and for individual recovery. The $22 million settlement constitutes 80 percent of all revenues charged by the bank as a result of the overdraft fees. The court also approved $5.5 million in attorneys’ fees and $50,000 in costs.

    Courts Overdraft Class Action Settlement Attorney Fees State Attorney General Consumer Finance

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  • OFAC reaches settlement with cosmetics company for alleged North Korean sanctions violations

    Financial Crimes

    On January 31, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a $996,080 settlement with a California-based cosmetics company for 156 alleged violations of the North Korean Sanctions Regulations. According to OFAC, the settlement resolves potential civil liability for the company’s alleged involvement in the importation of goods from two Chinese suppliers containing materials sourced from North Korea.

    In arriving at the settlement amount, OFAC considered the following as aggravating factors: (i) the alleged violations may have resulted in the North Korean government gaining control of U.S.-origin funds; (ii) the company is “large and commercially sophisticated [and] engages in a substantial volume of international trade”; and (iii) during the period of the alleged activity, the company’s compliance program, which was either non-existent or inadequate, failed to have “exercised sufficient supply chain due diligence” in its sourcing of products from a region posing a high risk to the effectiveness of the North Korean Sanctions Regulations.

    OFAC also considered numerous mitigating factors, including (i) company personnel did not have actual knowledge of the suppliers’ conduct; (ii) the company has not received a penalty or finding of a violation in the five years prior to the transactions at issue; (iii) the alleged violations are not a large part of the company’s business; and (iv) the company voluntarily self-disclosed the apparent violations and cooperated with OFAC’s investigation. In addition, the company has adopted an enhanced compliance program to lower the risk of recurrence of similar conduct in the future.

    Visit here for additional InfoBytes coverage on North Korea sanctions.

    Financial Crimes OFAC Department of Treasury Sanctions Settlement North Korea Of Interest to Non-US Persons

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  • CFPB files proposed consent order banning certain Canadian and Maltese payday lenders from U.S. consumer lending

    Federal Issues

    On February 1, the CFPB and a group of payday lenders, including individuals and corporate officials based in Canada and Malta (collectively, “defendants”), filed a proposed consent order with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York that would resolve allegations that the defendants violated the Consumer Financial Protection Act. According to the Bureau’s press release, the defendants allegedly (i) misrepresented to consumers an obligation to repay loan amounts that were voided because the loan violated state licensing or usury laws; (ii) misrepresented that loan agreements were not subject to federal or state laws; (iii) misrepresented that non-payment would result in lawsuits, arrests, imprisonment, or wage garnishment; and (iv) conditioned loan agreements upon irrevocable wage assignment clauses. Under the terms of the proposed order, the defendants would be, among other things, (i) permanently banned from consumer lending in the U.S.; (ii) permanently restrained from the collection or sale of existing U.S. consumer debts; and (iii) subject to certain reporting and recordkeeping requirements. The proposed order does not impose a fine on the defendants.

    Federal Issues CFPB Settlement Payday Lending Enforcement Consumer Finance CFPA Courts

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  • District Court: Approval of data breach settlement denied due to several deficiencies


    On January 28, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California denied preliminary approval of a proposed class action settlement after identifying several deficiencies with the deal. The proposed settlement was intended to resolve allegations concerning security failures by a global internet company, which led to three data breaches between 2013 and 2016 that exposed consumers’ personal information (previously covered by InfoBytes here). The proposed settlement would have required the internet company to (i) establish a $50 million settlement fund; (ii) pay additional attorneys’ fees of up to $35 million; (iii) pay costs and expenses of up to $2.5 million, as well as service awards of up to $7,500 for each class representative; (iv) provide customers with two years of credit monitoring and identity theft protection services; and (v) improve its data security. However, the court stated that the proposed settlement agreement, among other things, inadequately disclosed the sizes of the settlement fund and class, as well as the scope of non-monetary relief, and “appears likely to result in an improper reverter of attorneys’ fees.” Moreover, the court held that the proposed agreement provided insufficient detail about how much the settlement would cost the defendant in total, and did not disclose the costs of credit monitoring or how much the defendant would budget for data security, thus preventing class members from assessing the reasonableness of the settlement or the attorneys’ fee request—which the court indicated seem “unreasonably high.” The court also noted that “[t]he parties’ lack of disclosure also inhibits the court's ability to assess the reasonableness of the settlement.”

    Courts Class Action Settlement Data Breach

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