Subscribe to our InfoBytes Blog weekly newsletter and other publications for news affecting the financial services industry.
DOJ Files First Civil Fraud Suit Alleging False Claims Act And FIRREA Violations In The Sale Of Loans To Fannie Mae And Freddie Mac
On October 24, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) filed a $1 billion civil mortgage fraud lawsuit against a mortgage lender and a major financial institution in connection with loans sold to the government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs), the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac). Filed as a complaint-in-intervention in a pending qui tam, or whistleblower, lawsuit, the complaint alleges that the mortgage lender engaged in a scheme to defraud the GSEs in connection with the mortgage loans it sold to them, and that the financial institution that later acquired the lender was aware of and continued the misconduct. The suit seeks damages and penalties under the False Claims Act (FCA) and the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act of 1989 (FIRREA). This is the first civil suit brought by the Department of Justice concerning mortgages sold to the GSEs, and indicates that the government might commence other suits based on the sale of conventional mortgages to those entities.
The government’s allegations focus on a loan origination system initiated by the lender in 2006 that allegedly eliminated checkpoints on loan quality and led to fraud and other defects in the loans. The complaint alleges that the lender and the financial institution sold these loans to the GSEs but misrepresented that the loans complied with GSE requirements. The GSEs pooled the loans into mortgage backed securities and sold them to investors, subject to guarantees on principal and interest payments. As the allegedly defective loans defaulted, the GSEs suffered over $1 billion in losses through the payment of guarantees to investors.
These allegations set forth a theory of liability that the government had not previously articulated. Previous cases brought by the government primarily involved loans made by government program participants and alleged misrepresentations made directly to government agencies, whereas the complaint in this case is based on conventional loans and alleged misrepresentations to the GSEs. Moreover, unlike previous cases, defendants did not receive federal funds directly from the government, but rather only may have received such funds indirectly based on the government’s funding of the GSEs.
In addition, the complaint also represents another use by the government of FIRREA. Here, FIRREA is used to pursue the alleged profits made by defendants from the challenged loan origination system. See “Understanding FIRREA’s Reach: When Does Fraud ‘Affect’ a Financial Institution.” The case also marks yet another financial fraud qui tam action filed in New York. Both the FCA and FIRREA provide substantial rewards for whistleblowers and the government’s relatively quick decision to intervene, along with its fast response in other recent matters, may encourage other such suits in the SDNY. See “Whistle-Blower Bounties May Encourage Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities Fraud Reporting.”
In short, this action is another example of the government’s increasingly aggressive efforts to recoup losses stemming from the financial meltdown, as well as a reminder of the significance of the whistleblower provisions in both the FCA and FIRREA. Most importantly, it is a clear sign that government loan program participants are no longer the only targets for financial fraud recovery, and that the government may challenge the conduct of any lender who sold loans to the GSEs.
On October 9, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced a civil fraud suit against a mortgage lender alleged to have falsely certified loans under the FHA’s Direct Endorsement Lender Program. The suit, filed in coordination with the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force (FFETF), claims that from May 2001 through October 2005, the lender regularly and knowingly engaged in reckless origination and underwriting of FHA loans, while certifying to HUD that those loans met the FHA Direct Endorsement Lender Program requirements and were therefore eligible for FHA insurance. Further, the suit alleges that the lender failed to conduct adequate quality control, failed to comply with HUD self-reporting requirements, and later attempted to cover up its reporting failures. The government claims that it was required to pay, and will continue to have to pay, FHA benefits on defaulted loans that contained material violations, and seeks treble damages and penalties under the False Claims Act, as well as Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act penalties. The government also seeks compensatory damages under the common law theories of breach of fiduciary duty, gross negligence, negligence, unjust enrichment, and payment under mistake of fact. This suit follows the settlements earlier this year of several other cases involving similar claims. One other similar suit is currently pending.
On July 10, medical device manufacture Orthofix International N.V. became the latest in a string of companies in the medical device sector to resolve an FCPA matter with the U.S. government. The settlement adds Orthofix to the list of device manufacturers that have settled FCPA matters in 2012, along with Smith & Nephew and Biomet, who settled in February and March 2012, respectively. The Orthofix FCPA resolution calls for the company to pay a criminal fine to the DOJ of $2.22 million, and a civil monetary sanction (including disgorgement and interest) of $5.2 million to the SEC. The DOJ resolved the matter through a Deferred Prosecution Agreement, which was attached to the company’s 8-K of July 10, 2012, reporting the resolution. According to the allegations in the SEC’s Complaint, Promeca S.A. de C.V, a subsidiary based in Mexico, paid bribes to employees of the government-operated health care system, referring to the payments as “chocolates” and booking inaccurate reimbursement requests as meals, car tires or training expenses. The Mexico subsidiary made approximately $317,000 in improper payments over a 7-year period, according to the SEC. The FCPA resolution follows a June 7, 2012 guilty plea by the U.S. subsidiary, Orthofix Inc., on a False Claims Act-related matter, resulting in $7.8 million fine and payment of over $34 million to resolve a civil action.
On May 10, HUD and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York announced the settlement of a lawsuit alleging violation of the False Claims Act by a mortgage originator and affiliated entities. The government alleged that, for nearly a decade, MortgageIT, Inc. certified falsely that the mortgages it originated complied with HUD rules. MortgageIT and its affiliates agreed to pay $202.3 million to resolve the suit. After the Bank of America and Countrywide FCA claims settled in February, this marks the third mortgage-FCA lawsuit settled to date. A fourth case remains pending in the Southern District of New York.
On February 15, HUD and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York announced that CitiMortgage, Inc. had agreed to settle the government’s claims that CitiMortgage violated the False Claims Act and the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act by failing to comply with certain requirements of the Fair Housing Administration’s Direct Endorsement Lender Program. According to the press release, the defendant submitted certifications stating that certain loans were eligible for FHA mortgage insurance when in fact they were not, causing HUD to unnecessarily incur losses when those loans defaulted. As part of the settlement, which was approved by the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, CitiMortgage agreed to pay $158.3 million in damages to the United States.