Washington, DC - The Department of Justice announced today that the United States has settled civil mortgage fraud claims against Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. (Wells Fargo) and Wells Fargo executive Kurt Lofrano, stemming from Wells Fargo’s participation in the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) Direct Endorsement Lender Program.
In the settlement, Wells Fargo agreed to pay $1.2 billion and admitted, acknowledged and accepted responsibility for, among other things, certifying to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), during the period from May 2001 through December 2008, that certain residential home mortgage loans were eligible for FHA insurance when in fact they were not, resulting in the Government having to pay FHA insurance claims when some of those loans defaulted. The agreement resolves the United States’ civil claims in its lawsuit in the Southern District of New York, as well as an investigation conducted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York regarding Wells Fargo’s FHA origination and underwriting practices subsequent to the claims in its lawsuit and an investigation conducted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California into whether American Mortgage Network, LLC (AMNET), a mortgage lender acquired by Wells Fargo in 2009, falsely certified and submitted ineligible residential mortgage loans for FHA insurance.
The settlement was approved today by U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman for the Southern District of New York.
“This settlement is another step in the Department of Justice’s continuing efforts to hold accountable FHA approved lenders that unlawfully submitted false claims at the expense of American homeowners and taxpayers,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “In addition to today’s resolution with Wells Fargo, the department has pursued similar misconduct by numerous other lenders, returning more than $4 billion to the FHA fund and the Treasury and filing suit where appropriate. We remain committed to protecting the public fisc from all who seek to abuse it, whether they do business on Wall Street or Main Street.”
“This Administration remains committed to holding lenders accountable for their lending practices,” said Secretary Julián Castro for HUD. “The $1.2 billion settlement with Wells Fargo is the largest recovery for loan origination violations in FHA’s history. Yet, this monetary figure can never truly make up for the countless families that lost homes as a result of poor lending practices.”
“Today, Wells Fargo, one of the biggest mortgage lenders in the world, has been held responsible for years of reckless underwriting, while relying on government insurance to deal with the damage,” said U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara for the Southern District of New York. “Wells Fargo has long taken advantage of the FHA mortgage insurance program, designed to help millions of Americans realize the dream of home ownership, to write thousands and thousands of faulty loans. Driven to maximize profits, Wells Fargo employed shoddy underwriting practices to drive up loan volume, at the expense of loan quality. Even though Wells Fargo identified through internal quality assurance reviews thousands of problematic loans, the bank decided not to report them to HUD. As a result, while Wells Fargo enjoyed huge profits from its FHA loan business, the government was left holding the bag when the bad loans went bust. With today’s settlement, Wells Fargo has finally resolved the years-long litigation, adding to the list of large financial institutions against which this office has successfully pursued civil fraud prosecutions.”
“Misconduct in the mortgage industry helped lead to a destructive financial crisis that spanned the globe,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Brian Stretch for the Northern District of California. “American Mortgage Network’s origination of FHA-insured loans that did not comply with government requirements also caused major losses to the public fisc. Today’s settlement demonstrates the Department of Justice’s resolve to pursue remedies against those who engaged in this type of misconduct.”
“This matter is not just a failure by Wells Fargo to comply with federal requirements in FHA’s Direct Endorsement Lender program – it’s a failure by one of our trusted participants in the FHA program to demonstrate a commitment to integrity and to ordinary Americans who are trying to fulfill their dreams of homeownership,” said Inspector General David A. Montoya for HUD.
According to the second amended complaint filed in Manhattan federal court, the government had alleged:
Wells Fargo has been a participant in the Direct Endorsement Lender program, a federal program administered by FHA. As a Direct Endorsement Lender, Wells Fargo has the authority to originate, underwrite and certify mortgages for FHA insurance. If a Direct Endorsement Lender approves a mortgage loan for FHA insurance and the loan later defaults, the holder or servicer of the loan may submit an insurance claim to HUD for the outstanding balance of the defaulted loan, along with any associated costs, which HUD must then pay. Under the Direct Endorsement Lender program, neither the FHA nor HUD reviews a loan for compliance with FHA requirements before it is endorsed for FHA insurance. Direct Endorsement Lenders are therefore required to follow program rules designed to ensure that they are properly underwriting and certifying mortgages for FHA insurance and maintaining a quality control program that can prevent and correct any deficiencies in their underwriting. The quality control program requirements include conducting a full review of all loans that go 60 days into default within the first six payments, known as “early payment defaults”; taking prompt and adequate corrective action upon discovery of fraud or serious underwriting problems; and disclosing to HUD in writing all loans containing evidence of fraud or other serious underwriting deficiencies. Wells Fargo failed to comply with these basic requirements.
First, between at least May 2001 and October 2005, Wells Fargo, the largest HUD-approved residential mortgage lender, engaged in a regular practice of reckless origination and underwriting of its FHA retail loans, all the while knowing that it would not be responsible when the defective loans went into default. To maximize its loan volume (and profits), Wells Fargo elected to hire temporary staff to churn out and approve an ever increasing quantity of FHA loans, but neglected to provide this inexperienced staff with proper training. At the same time, Wells Fargo’s management applied pressure on its underwriters to approve more and more FHA loans. The bank also imposed short turnaround times for deciding whether to approve the loans, employed lax underwriting standards and controls and paid bonuses to underwriters and other staff based on the number of loans approved. Predictably, as a result, Wells Fargo’s loan volume and profits soared, but the quality of its loans declined significantly. Yet, when Wells Fargo’s senior management was repeatedly advised by its own quality assurance reviews of serious problems with the quality of the retail FHA loans that the Bank was originating, management disregarded the findings and failed to implement proper and effective corrective measures, leaving HUD to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in claims for defaulted loans.
Second, Wells Fargo failed to self-report to HUD the bad loans that it was originating, in violation of FHA program reporting requirements. During the period 2002 through 2010, HUD required Direct Endorsement Lenders to perform post-closing reviews of the loans that they originated and to report to HUD in writing loans that contained fraud or other serious deficiencies. This requirement provided HUD with an opportunity to investigate the defective loans and request reimbursement for any claim that HUD had paid or request indemnification for any future claim, as appropriate. During this nine-year period, Wells Fargo, through its post-closing reviews, internally identified thousands of defective FHA loans that it was required to self-report to HUD, including a substantial number of loans that had gone into “early payment default.” However, instead of reporting these loans to HUD as required, Wells Fargo engaged in virtually no self-reporting during the four-year period from 2002 through 2005 and only minimal self-reporting after 2005.
In his capacity as Vice President of Credit-Risk – Quality Assurance at Wells Fargo, Lofrano executed on Wells Fargo’s behalf the annual certifications required by HUD for the Bank’s participation in the Direct Endorsement Lender program for certain years. Lofrano also organized and participated in the working group responsible for creating and implementing Wells Fargo’s self-reporting policies and procedures. In contravention of HUD’s requirements, that group failed to report to HUD loans that Wells Fargo had internally identified as containing material underwriting findings. Moreover, Lofrano received Wells Fargo quality assurance reports identifying thousands of FHA loans with material findings – very few of which Wells Fargo reported to HUD.