Lawsuit Claims Banks Bilked Veterans During Refinancing Transactions

Evan Nemeroff, National Mortgage News

A whistleblower lawsuit filed by two mortgage brokers has been unsealed in Federal District Court in Atlanta claiming that 13 banks and mortgage companies have cheated veterans out of hundreds of millions of dollars.

According to the lawsuit, lenders allegedly hid illegal fees in veterans’ home mortgage refinancing transactions related to the Interest Rate Reduction Refinancing Loans program. This program was created to allow veterans to take advantage of low interest rates and protect them from paying excessive fees and charges in the refinancing transaction.

The lawsuit claims that the lenders repeatedly violated the rules of the IRRRL program by charging veterans unallowable fees and then deliberately concealing this information from the VA to obtain taxpayer-backed guarantees for the loans. The lenders also allegedly falsely certified to the VA, in writing, that they were not charging unallowable fees.

In the lawsuit, the brokers are claiming that the lenders have been fraudulently reporting on HUD-1 statement forms undisclosed attorneys fees and other unallowable fees on the line for the actual cost of title examination and title search. The lawsuit says that lenders are reportedly charging $525 to $1,200 for title examination and title search fees, when the total cost should only amount to $125 to $200.

Lenders are permitted to charge veterans for recording fees and taxes, fees for a credit report and other “reasonable and customary amounts,” according to VA rules, but cannot charge attorneys’ fees or settlement closing fees in refinancing transactions involving VA loans.

“The false statements and fraudulent conduct are blatant,” said Marlan Wilbanks, co-lead counsel in this whistleblower case. “The banks simply reduced the charges for unallowable fees to zero, and then added those fees in the spaces where allowable fees were to be shown. Veterans don’t know what the usual and customary charges for those allowable fees are, and the VA understandably relied upon the banks to comply with VA regulations, rather than digging into every loan transaction. The banks took advantage of that reliance to cheat veterans and taxpayers.”

Since 2001, the VA has guaranteed over 1.1 million IRRRL loans. According to the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Veterans Affairs, the nationwide default rate for IRRRLs is 18% or more, with approximately more than 100,000 loans going into default every year. Nearly half of the VA loans that default result in foreclosure proceedings, costing the VA about $22,000 for each loan and also massive damages for American taxpayers and veterans.

Under the False Claims Act, the lenders would be liable for all damages resulting from those fraudulently induced guarantees of IRRRL loans, as well as penalties of up to $11,000 for each violation of the act.

The defendants in this case include Wells Fargo, Countrywide Home Loans, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Mortgage Investors Corp., PNC Bank, First Tennessee Bank National Association, Irwin Mortgage Corp., SunTrust Mortgage, New Freedom Mortgage Corp., GMAC Mortgage and Citimortgage,

“This is a massive fraud on the American taxpayers and American veterans,” said James Butler Jr., co-lead counsel of the Atlanta law firm Butler, Wooten and Fryhofer. “Knowing they weren’t allowed to charge the fees, the banks and mortgage companies inflated allowable charges to hide these illegal without telling the veterans who were the borrowers or the VA they were doing so.”

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