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U.S. imposes denial of export privileges on Chinese telecom giant for violating prior settlement agreement
On April 16, the U.S. Department of Commerce imposed a denial of export privileges on Chinese telecommunications equipment corporation for violating a previous settlement relating to illegally shipping telecommunications equipment to Iran and North Korea. As previously covered in InfoBytes, in March 2017, the company agreed to a combined civil and criminal penalty and to forfeiture of over $1.1 billion for shipping the equipment, making false statements, and obstructing justice. As part of the settlement, the company agreed to a seven-year suspended denial of export privileges, which would trigger if the agreement was not met or if the company committee further violations.
The Department imposed the denial after determining that the company made false statements during the 2016 settlement negotiations and again during the probationary period in 2017 related to disciplinary actions against senior employees that the company said it was taking or had already taken. The false statements covered up the fact that the company had actually failed to issue letters of reprimand and paid full bonuses to the employees who had engaged in illegal conduct.
On March 30, a regional bank reached a $13 million settlement with a group of its shareholders over allegations of misleading statements and omissions regarding the bank’s compliance with fair lending laws, and Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) and Anti-Money Laundering (AML) regulations. The shareholders—purchasers of the bank’s stock between July 2013 and July 2014—allege that the bank’s misrepresentations regarding their compliance with BSA/AML laws, as well as other laws and regulations, artificially inflated the price of the bank’s stock. According to the settlement, both parties’ decisions to enter into the agreement were partially due to the length and expense of continued litigation, which began in 2014. The shareholders initiated the class action litigation in July 2014; however, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit vacated the initial class certification in September 2016, remanding to the district court for further proceedings. The class was recertified by the district court in June 2017 with the 6th Circuit denying the bank’s petition for appeal of the recertification. The bank denies all allegations of wrongdoing and liability in the settlement.
International bank agrees to pay $2 billion in civil penalties to settle allegations of RMBS misconduct
On March 29, the DOJ announced a $2 billion settlement with an international bank and several of its affiliates to resolve allegations of misrepresentation in the sale of residential mortgage-backed securities, in violation of the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act. The bank agreed to pay the civil monetary penalty in exchange for dismissal of a civil action filed in 2016. According to the settlement agreement, the investigation focused on 36 securitizations by the bank between 2005 and 2007. In addition to the alleged misrepresentations in the offering documents, the bank allegedly misled investors about the quality of the mortgage loans backing the deals. Separately, two former bank executives agreed to pay a combined $2 million to resolve claims brought against them individually. The bank did not admit to any liability or wrongdoing.
FTC and New York Attorney General announce orders banning debt collection operations from related activities
On March 22, the New York Attorney General’s office and the FTC announced settlements with the operators of an allegedly abusive debt collection scheme, resolving lawsuits filed in 2015. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.) According to the FTC, the operators and associated companies allegedly violated the FTC Act, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, and New York state laws prohibiting deceptive acts and practices by using abusive language and making false threats that consumers would be arrested or sued in order to collect the supposed debts. The stipulated final orders impose combined judgments of over $48.7 million to be partially suspended upon the surrender of certain assets, including more than $1 million in corporate and individual assets. In addition to barring the operators from the debt collection business and from buying or selling debt, the orders further prohibit them from misrepresenting financial products and services or benefiting from consumers’ personal information collected in connection with the challenged practices.
On March 16, the FTC and three Utah-based movie companies (defendants) agreed to a proposed stipulated final order settling charges that they violated the FTC Act and the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR). In 2011, the DOJ filed a complaint on behalf of the FTC, which alleged defendants engaged in abusive telemarketing practices by making more than 117 million deceptive and unlawful calls to consumers to pitch movies and induce DVD sales in violation of the TSR, including 99 million calls to numbers on the Do Not Call Registry. In 2016, a federal court jury found the defendants guilty of six TSR violations and collectively responsible for the more than 117 million unlawful calls alleged in the complaint. The jury additionally found that the defendants had “actual or implied knowledge of the TSR violations,” meaning that the court was allowed to assess civil penalties under the FTC Act. According to the FTC’s press release, this was the first-ever jury verdict in an action to enforce the TSR and DNC Registry rules.
The proposed stipulated final order bans the defendants from engaging in the alleged misconduct, orders the defendants to train and monitor its solicitors to ensure compliance with the TSR, and imposes a $45.5 million civil money penalty, of which $487,735 is suspended unless it is determined that the financial statements defendants submitted to the FTC contain any inaccuracies.
On March 12, the California Department of Business Oversight (DBO) announced a $160,000 settlement with the California subsidiary of a payday lender for allegedly adding improper fees to installment loan principle amounts in order to avoid the California Finance Law’s (CFL) interest rate cap. The settlement resulted from a DBO examination in which the DBO issued a finding that: (i) the lender failed to exclude fees payable to the California DMV when calculating the principal amount of certain vehicle title loans; (ii) excluding the DMV fees, the bona fide principal amount of the loans at issue was less than $2,500; and (iii) the loans were, therefore, subject to the CFL interest rate cap on loans with a principal amount of less than $2,500, which was exceeded on 591 loans. Without admitting to any wrongdoing, the lender agreed to pay an administrative penalty of approximately $78,000 to the DBO and to refund approximately $82,000 to allegedly affected borrowers.
On March 9, the FTC entered into a settlement with a credit card merchant and its individual officer (collectively, “defendants”) relating to an allegedly deceptive credit card telemarketing operation. According to the FTC’s amended complaint, the defendants violated the FTC Act and the Telemarketing Sales rule by assisting a telemarketing company in masking its identity by processing the company’s credit card payments through multiple fictitious companies. The FTC previously had banned the telemarketing company from selling fraudulent “work-at-home” opportunities in 2015. The settlement, among other things, prohibits the defendants from processing payments or acting as an independent sales organization. The order also stipulates a judgment of approximately $1.3 million, which will be suspended unless it is determined that the financial statements defendants submitted to the FTC contain any inaccuracies.
On March 7, the FDIC announced that a Delaware-based bank agreed to settle allegations of unfair and deceptive practices in violation of Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act for assessing transaction fees in excess of what the bank previously had disclosed. The FDIC also found that the bank’s practices violated the Electronic Funds Transfer Act, the Truth in Savings Act, and the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act. According to the FDIC, from December 2010 through November 2014, the bank overcharged transaction fees to consumers who used prepaid and certain reloadable debit cards to make point-of-sale, signature-based transactions that did not require the use of a personal identification number. The transaction fees allegedly exceeded what the bank had disclosed to consumers. Under the terms of the settlement order, the bank will, among other things, (i) establish a $1.3 million restitution fund for eligible consumers; (ii) prepare a comprehensive restitution plan and retain an independent auditor to determine compliance with that plan; and (iii) provide the FDIC with quarterly written progress reports detailing its compliance with the settlement order. The settlement also requires the bank to pay a civil money penalty of $2 million.
Virginia Attorney General sues pension sale lender who targeted retired veterans and government employees; obtains full restitution for customers of online lender
On March 7, the Virginia Attorney General took action against Delaware- and Nevada-based installment lenders (defendants) for allegedly making illegal loans with excessive annual interest rates that were disguised as “lump sum” cash payouts to Virginia consumers, in violation of the Virginia Consumer Protection Act (VCPA). According to the complaint, the defendants disguised the high interest loans to Virginia pensioners as “Purchase and Sale Agreements” involving a “sale” or “pension advance” in an effort to bypass consumer lending laws, including TILA and Regulation Z disclosure requirements. Furthermore, the complaint alleges that the loans charged interest rates as high as 183 percent, far exceeding the state’s 12 percent annual usury cap, but because they were misrepresented as sales, defendants avoided potential private actions brought by consumers to recover excessive interest payments. The complaint seeks injunctive and monetary relief.
Separately, on February 23, the Virginia Attorney General announced a settlement with a group of affiliated online lenders and debt collectors (defendants) to resolve violations of the VCPA through the offering of unlawful open-end credit plan loans and engaging in illegal debt collection practices. According to the Assurance of Voluntary Compliance approved earlier in February, between January 2015 through mid-June 2017, the defendants (i) offered open-end credit plan loans and imposed bi-monthly “service fees” that—when calculated with the advertised interest—greatly increased the loan’s cost and exceeded the state’s 12 percent annual limit; (ii) imposed illegal finance charges and other service fees on borrowers during the required 25-day grace period; (iii) contacted consumers in an effort to collect on these loans; and (iv) contacted the consumers' employers to implement wage assignments and garnish wages from consumers' paychecks. Under the terms of the settlement, defendants will provide nearly $150,000 in restitution and debt forgiveness, pay $105,000 in civil penalties and attorneys’ fees, and are permanently enjoined from consumer lending and debt collection activities in the state.
On March 6, the New York Attorney General announced a settlement with a healthcare provider for an alleged violation of the Health Insurance Portability Accountability Act (HIPAA) concerning a mailing error, which resulted in the disclosure of over 80,000 social security numbers. According to the announcement, in October 2016, the healthcare provider discovered that its mailing envelopes for certain health policies inadvertently included the customers’ social security numbers as part of the “Health Insurance Claim Number” printed on the envelope. Under the terms of the settlement, the healthcare provider is required to pay a $575,000 fine, review its policies and procedures, and implement a corrective action plan which includes an analysis of the security risks associated with the mailing of policy documents.
- Kathryn L. Ryan and Jedd R. Bellman to discuss “Risk and compliance management: Are you covered?” at a Mortgage Bankers Association webinar
- Melissa Klimkiewicz and Daniel A. Bellovin to discuss “Things to know about flood insurance” at a NAFCU webinar
- Hank Asbill to discuss “Ethical issues at sentencing” at the 31st Annual National Seminar on Federal Sentencing
- Max Bonici will moderate a panel on “Enforcement risk and other regulatory and compliance issues related to crypto and digital assets” at the American Bar Association’s 2022 Annual Meeting
- John R. Coleman to provide a “CFPB Update” at MBA’s 2022 Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Amanda R. Lawrence to discuss “The shifting data privacy and data protection landscape” at MBA’s 2022 Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to provide “An update on key fair lending cases and the CRA and UDAAP rules” at MBA’s 2022 Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss “Fundamentals of financial crime compliance” at the Practicing Law Institute
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss “Ongoing CDD: Operational considerations” at NAFCU’s Regulatory Compliance & BSA Seminar
- James C. Chou to discuss ransomware at NAFCU’s Regulatory Compliance & BSA seminar