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On March 24, the SEC announced awards of over $570,000 to two whistleblowers for providing “significant information and assistance that helped the Commission bring multiple successful enforcement actions.” According to the formal order, the first whistleblower received an award of approximately $478,000, and the second whistleblower received an award of approximately $94,000. The SEC stated that the first whistleblower’s award was substantially higher because the information (i) helped the SEC bring antifraud charges related to conduct that was ongoing at the time the whistleblower reported the information to the SEC; (ii) played a critical role in the development of the case; and (iii) related to all the enforcement actions. In comparison, the second whistleblower’s information—while important—contributed to charges brought against only one of the respondents, the SEC stated.
Earlier on March 23, the SEC announced an award of over $1.6 million to a whistleblower in an enforcement action. According to the SEC’s press release, the whistleblower “provided helpful assistance early in the investigation, preserving Commission time and resources,” and “helped form part of the basis for charges brought in a successful enforcement action.” The formal order—which acknowledged that the allegations reported by the whistleblower “would have been hard to detect”—stated, however, that while the whistleblower “unreasonably delayed” reporting the allegations, the SEC chose not to factor in the delay as severely as it might have done had the delay occurred entirely after the Dodd-Frank Act established the whistleblower award program.
The SEC’s March 24 press release states that it has awarded 76 individuals a total of approximately $396 million in whistleblower awards since its initial award in 2012.
On February 21, the DOJ and SEC announced that one of the nation’s largest banks agreed to a settlement including a $3 billion monetary penalty to resolve investigations regarding their incentive compensation sales program. (See the DOJ’s Statement of Facts here). As previously covered by InfoBytes, the OCC also recently issued charges against five of the bank’s former executives, and announced settlements with the former CEO and operating committee members for allegedly failing to adequately ensure that the bank’s sales incentive compensation plans operated according to policy.
The SEC alleged in its Cease and Desist order that the bank violated the antifraud provisions of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. The SEC’s press release states that in addition to agreeing to cease and desist from committing any future violations of the antifraud provisions, the bank agreed to a civil penalty of $500 million, which the SEC will return to harmed investors.
The bank also settled the DOJ’s civil claims under the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act. According to the settlement, the bank accepted responsibility, cooperated in the resulting investigations, and has taken “extensive remedial measures.” In addition, the DOJ’s press release states that it entered into a three-year deferred prosecution agreement with the bank regarding the bank’s sales incentive compensation practices.
On January 22, the SEC announced that it had awarded a total of $322,000 to two whistleblowers in two separate enforcement actions. According to the SEC’s press release, the whistleblowers “played a crucial role in helping the Commission protect Main Street investors,” and “assisted the SEC in returning money to harmed investors.” One whistleblower provided information that reportedly helped the agency “shut down an ongoing fraudulent scheme that was preying on retail investors,” and was awarded $277,000 (see award order here). The other whistleblower, a harmed investor, assisted the agency to “shut down a fraudulent scheme targeting retail investors.” The whistleblower was awarded $45,000 (see award order here). Since 2012, the SEC whistleblower program has awarded roughly $387 million to 72 whistleblowers.
On January 15, the SEC filed a brief in a pending U.S. Supreme Court action, Liu v. SEC. The question presented to the Court asks whether the SEC, in a civil enforcement action in federal court, is authorized to seek disgorgement of money acquired through fraud. The petitioners were ordered by a California federal court to disgorge the money that they collected from investors for a cancer treatment center that was never built. The SEC charged the petitioners with funneling much of the investor money into their own personal accounts and sending the rest of the funds to marketing companies in China, in violation of the Securities Act’s prohibitions against using omissions or false statements to secure money when selling or offering securities. The district court granted the SEC’s motion for summary judgment, and ordered the petitioners to pay a civil penalty in addition to the $26.7 million the court ordered them to repay to the investors. The petitioners appealed to the Supreme Court and in November, the Court granted certiorari.
The petitioners argued that Congress has never authorized the SEC to seek disgorgement in civil suits for securities fraud. They point to the court’s 2017 decision in Kokesh v. SEC, in which the Court reversed the ruling of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit when it unanimously held that disgorgement is a penalty and not an equitable remedy. Under 28 U.S.C. § 2462, this makes disgorgement subject to the same five year statute of limitations as are civil fines, penalties and forfeitures (see previous InfoBytes coverage here). The petitioners also suggested that the SEC has enforcement remedies other than disgorgement, such as injunctive relief and civil money penalties, so loss of disgorgement authority will not hinder the agency’s enforcement efforts.
According to the SEC’s brief, historically, courts have used disgorgement to prevent unjust enrichment as an equitable remedy for depriving a defendant of ill-gotten gains. More recently, five statutes enacted by Congress since 1988 “show that Congress was aware of, relied on, and ratified the preexisting view that disgorgement was a permissible remedy in civil actions brought by the [SEC] to enforce the federal securities laws.” The agency notes that the Court has recognized disgorgement as both an equitable remedy and a penalty, suggesting, however, that “the punitive features of disgorgement do not remove it from the scope of [the Exchange Act’s] Section 21(d)(5).” Regarding the petitioner’s reliance on Kokesh, the brief explains that “the consequence of the Court’s decision was not to preclude or even to place special restrictions on SEC claims for disgorgement, but simply to ensure that such claims—like virtually all claims for retrospective monetary relief—must be brought within a period of time defined by statute.”
In addition to the brief submitted by the SEC, several amicus briefs have been filed in support of the SEC, including a brief from several members of Congress, and a brief from the attorneys general of 23 states and the District of Columbia.
FTC Obtains Default Judgment Against Operations That Allegedly Sold Counterfeit Payday Loan Debt Portfolios
On October 17, the FTC issued a press release announcing a default judgment in an action brought against two Kansas-based operations and their owner (defendants), who allegedly violated the Federal Trade Commission Act by selling lists of counterfeit payday loan debt portfolios to debt collectors. The allegations claimed that in numerous instances, the portfolios listed “loans that the identified lenders have not, in fact, made to the identified consumers,” and that the defendants “have not purchased, or otherwise obtained, any rights to collect loan debts originated by the lenders listed . . ., nor have they engaged in any transaction that authorizes them to collect, sell, distribute, or transfer any valid loans originated by those lenders.” As a result, numerous consumers were contacted by various debt collectors demanding repayment of the fake debts, and in some instances, consumers made payments to either stop the collection calls or because they feared becoming delinquent. Under the terms of the default judgment, the defendants (i) must pay more than $4.1 million as equitable monetary relief; (ii) are banned from handling sensitive financial information, such as “bank account numbers, credit or debit card numbers, or social security numbers”; and (iii) are prohibited from misrepresenting material facts.
On July 19, Representative Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.) reintroduced legislation designed to overhaul the process used to manage systemic risk by basing the regulation of financial institutions on risk rather than asset size alone. As set forth in a press release issued by Rep. Luetkemeyer’s office, the Systemic Risk Designation Improvement Act of 2017 would replace the $50 billion threshold for designating a bank holding company as a Systemically Important Financial Institution (SIFI) with a series of standards for evaluating risk. The legislation would require the Federal Reserve to evaluate an “institution’s size, interconnectedness, substitutability, global cross-jurisdictional activity, and complexity” before designating it as a SIFI. The legislation was previously introduced in the House, but discussion was delayed to provide Rep. Luetkemeyer with time to propose a method for funding the proposed changes, which are estimated to cost more than $115 million. (See previous InfoBytes summary here.)
“This legislation supports economic growth throughout the country because it will free commercial banks to make loans while allowing financial regulators the ability to apply enhanced standards on banks based on actual risk posed to the financial system–rather than on arbitrary asset size alone," Luetkemeyer pronounced.
On July 20, the CFPB released its Spring 2017 rulemaking agenda. The agenda was last updated in Fall 2016. The summer release date, and the fact that certain deadlines listed in the updated agenda have already passed, indicates that the agenda’s release may have been delayed after the CFPB drafted it. The following aspects of the updated agenda are particularly noteworthy:
- Regulation Reviews: The Bureau plans to begin “the first in a series of reviews of existing regulations that we inherited from other agencies through the transfer of authorities under the Dodd-Frank Act,” noting that “other federal financial services regulators have engaged in these types of reviews over time, and believe that such an initiative would be a natural complement to our work to facilitate implementation of new regulations.” The Bureau has formed “an internal task force to coordinate and deepen the agency’s focus on concerns about regulatory burdens and projects to identify and reduce unwarranted regulatory burdens….” The agenda lists “pre-rule activities” as continuing through September 2017. Separately, the Bureau notes its ongoing assessments of the effectiveness of the Mortgage Servicing Rules, the Ability-to-Repay/Qualified Mortgage Rule, and the Remittance Transfer Rule pursuant to the Dodd-Frank Act’s five-year lookback provision.
- Small Dollar Lending: The Bureau reports that it received more than one million comments on its June 2016 proposed rule to impose ability-to-repay requirements for payday, vehicle title, and similar installment loans. The Bureau states that it “continue[s] to believe that the concerns articulated in the [proposed rule] are substantial” but does not provide an expected release date for a final rule.
- “Larger Participants” in Installment Lending: The agenda lists September 2017 as the expected release date for “a proposed rule that would define non-bank ‘larger participants’ in the market for personal loans, including consumer installment loans and vehicle title loans.” Designation as a larger participant brings a non-bank entity within the CFPB’s supervisory jurisdiction. The agenda indicates that a companion rule requiring payday, vehicle title lenders, and other non-bank entities to register with the Bureau is also underway, as noted below.
- Debt Collection: In July 2016, the Bureau released an outline of proposals under consideration for debt collection and convened a panel under the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act in conjunction with the Office of Management and Budget and the Small Business Administration’s Chief Counsel for Advocacy to consult with representatives of small businesses that might be affected by the rulemaking. The Bureau notes that, “[b]uilding on feedback received through [that] panel, we have decided to issue a proposed rule later in 2017 concerning debt collectors’ communications practices and consumer disclosures.” The agenda states that a proposed rule is expected in September 2017. The Bureau also states that, in a departure from the July 2016 outline of proposals, the Bureau “intend[s] to follow up separately at a later time about concerns regarding information flows between creditors and FDCPA collectors and about potential rules to govern creditors that collect their own debts.”
- Overdrafts: The Bureau states that the current opt-in regime “produces substantially different opt-in rates across different depository institutions” and that its “supervisory and enforcement work indicates that some institutions are aggressively steering consumers to opt in.” The Bureau reports that it is “engaged in consumer testing of revised opt-in forms and considering whether other regulatory changes may be warranted to enhance consumer decision making.” The agenda lists “pre-rule activities” as continuing through June 2017.
- Small Business Lending: The agenda lists “pre-rule activities” on the implementation of the small business data reporting provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act as continuing through June 2017. Specifically, the agenda states that, at this juncture, the CFPB “is focusing on outreach and research to develop its understanding of the players, products, and practices in the small business lending market and of the potential ways to implement section 1071.”
- HMDA & ECOA Amendments: The agenda lists October 2017 as the expected release date for the April 2017 proposed ECOA amendments to clarify requirements for collecting information on ethnicity, race, and sex, but does not list an expected release date for finalization of the April 2017 proposed technical corrections to the 2015 HMDA rule, or the July 2017 proposed amendments to the 2015 HMDA rule’s requirements for reporting home equity lines of credit.
- TRID/Know Before You Owe Amendments: The agenda lists March 2018 as the expected release date for finalization of the July 2017 proposed rule addressing the “black hole” issue, which is discussed in our special alert.
- Mortgage Servicing Amendments: The Bureau states that it expects to issue a proposal in September 2017 “to make one or more substantive changes to the rule in response to . . . concerns” raised by the industry.
- Arbitration: Interestingly, the agenda states that the Bureau’s final rule on mandatory arbitration clauses, which was released this month to significant controversy, was not expected until August.
- Non-Bank Registration: The Bureau states that it is “considering whether rules to require registration of [installment lenders] or other non-depository lenders would facilitate supervision, as has been suggested to us by both consumer advocates and industry groups.”
- Prepaid Cards: The agenda does not provide an expected release date for finalization of the June 2017 proposed amendments addressing error resolution and limitations on liability, application of the rule’s credit-related provisions to digital wallets, and other issues.
- Credit Card Agreement Submission: The Bureau is “considering rules to modernize our database of credit card agreements to reduce burden on issuers that submit credit card agreements to us and make the database more useful for consumers and the general public.” The agenda lists “pre-rule activities” as continuing through October 2017.
On July 12, SEC Chairman Jay Clayton spoke at the nonpartisan Economic Club of New York about the principles behind his regulatory agenda. In addition to outlining the SEC’s three-part mission on investor protection, market order and efficiency, and capital formation, Clayton stressed the need for cooperation with domestic and foreign regulators to ensure effective, sound regulatory approaches. Noting the SEC’s coordination with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) on issues concerning cybersecurity and swap markets specifically, Clayton highlighted plans to continue to work with the CFTC, under the guidance of Title VII of the Dodd-Frank Act, to “reduce unnecessary complexity as well as costs to both regulators and market participants.” The SEC also plans to continue to encourage strong enforcement and examination programs.
CFPB Director Speaks at National Community Reinvestment Coalition Conference; Discusses Regulatory Review at Chamber of Commerce 11th Annual Capital Markets Summit
On March 29, CFPB Director Richard Cordray spoke at the National Community Reinvestment Coalition Conference in Washington, D.C. to discuss, among other things, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act and the difficulties faced by individuals who cannot obtain mainstream credit. As previously covered in InfoBytes, the CFPB is exploring the risks and benefits of using “alternative data” to assist consumers whose limited credit histories prevent them from accessing many lending opportunities. Cordray stated that one of the CFPB’s priorities “is [to increase] the availability of responsible financial products and services, especially for those who have been underserved or shut out.”
The next day, on March 30, Cordray spoke at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s 11th Annual Capital Markets Summit in Washington, D.C. In prepared remarks, Cordray discussed the regulatory compliance challenges and burdens that financial organizations face, as well as the CFPB’s efforts to assist with regulatory implementation, the development of clearer guidance, and methods to streamline and modernize regulations based on effectiveness. Cordray noted the CFPB’s efforts to improve and adapt regulations based on the needs of the industry. “We learn from the comments we receive and our final rules are helpfully informed by that input on a consistent basis,” Cordray stated. “But even after we issue a final rule, if the data shows over time that any of our substantive calls need to be reconsidered, we can and will face the issue frankly and address it. We will not let pride of authorship interfere with the serious task of policymaking in the interests of consumers and the American public.” As mandated by Congress, the CFPB must review any significant rules after five years have passed. The CFPB plans to review remittance rules followed by a review of the mortgage rules. Cordray also noted efforts to address ambiguities and conflicts in other areas such as debt collection and payday lending.
On February 2, the OMB Acting Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) released a memorandum providing interim guidance for implementing President Trump’s January 30 Executive Order entitled “Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs.” Among other things, the memorandum clarifies that the January 30 Order—which was covered previously by InfoBytes here—(i) does not apply to agencies defined as an “independent regulatory agency” by 44 U.S.C. § 3502(5), which include the CFPB; (ii) applies only to significant regulatory actions that have an annual effect on the economy of at least $100 million or result in other material effects as defined in Executive Order 12,866; and (iii) applies only to significant regulatory actions issued between noon on January 20 and September 30, 2017.
- Jonice Gray Tucker to join CFPB panel at CBA’s Washington Forum
- Jonice Gray Tucker to moderate “Pandemic relief response and lasting impacts on access, credit, banking, and equality” at the American Bar Association Business Law Section Spring Meeting
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss "Post-pandemic CFPB exam preparation" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Spring Conference & Expo
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Making fair lending work for you" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Spring Conference & Expo
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Reading the tea leaves of President Biden’s initial financial appointees" at LendIt Fintech
- Moorari K. Shah to discuss “CA, NY, federal licensing and disclosure” at the Equipment Leasing & Finance Association Legal Forum
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Compliance under Biden" at the WSJ Risk & Compliance Forum
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “The future of fair lending” at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference