Tester demands investigation of alleged big bank scheme to bilk veterans
Senator wants Justice Department to investigate big banks for fraud, illegal fees on veterans’ mortgages
(U.S. SENATE) – Senator Jon Tester is pushing the U.S. Justice Department to investigate the nation’s biggest banks for allegedly adding illegal fees to the home loans of veterans and their families.
A recently unsealed whistleblower lawsuit alleges that Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and J.P. Morgan Chase disguised fees that are specifically forbidden under VA rules on veterans’ home refinancing loans.
Because these loans are guaranteed by the federal government, they are low-risk, leading to additional profits for the banks. But the Justice Department has so far declined to pursue the case.
In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, Tester called for the Justice Department to take up the case, saying defrauding veterans would be “illegal and Un-American.”
“I request that you investigate the full extent of these illegal activities, and provide my office with detailed information about the subsequent damages as well as the actions the Justice Department will undertake to prevent them from happening in the future,” Tester wrote Holder. “Despite what some of our nation’s largest banks may believe, the men and women who have honorably served our country deserve better than this. They have earned as much.”
Under VA rules, lenders may not charge veterans for attorneys’ fees or settlement closing fees when handling home loans. The lawsuit alleges that lenders instructed mortgage brokers to disguise these fees by combining them with other, permitted charges.
“Taking advantage of veterans who put their lives on the line—that’s something no Montanan and no American should stand for,” Tester said. “The Justice Department needs to protect not only the men and women who defend this country, but also the American taxpayers who guaranteed these loans. The actions of these banks deserve a close and thorough look from this Administration.”
According to the lawsuit, more than 1.2 million VA home loans have been issued to veterans over the past 10 years, and as much as 90 percent may involve some degree of fraud.
Tester is Montana’s only member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. Earlier this year, he introduced a bill that increases the penalties for banks that violate the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, which protects active duty troops from certain financial and legal hardships.
Tester’s letter to Attorney General Holder appears below.
October 11, 2011
The Honorable Eric Holder
Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Ave, NW, Suite 5111
Washington, DC 20530
Dear Attorney General Holder:
I write regarding the lawsuit recently unsealed in federal court which reveals that as many as 13 banks and mortgage firms imposed excessive, hidden and illegal fees on a number of our nation’s veterans and their families. Because these home loans were backed by the federal government, they were low-risk and led to additional profits for the banks. I am bothered by the fact that the Justice Department reportedly will not be taking on the case at this time. I request that you provide justification for this decision, and urge you to reconsider. I also request that you investigate the full extent of these illegal activities, and provide my office with detailed information about the subsequent damages as well as the actions the Justice Department will undertake to prevent them from happening in the future.
According to the lawsuit, these veterans were fraudulently charged millions in illegal fees through a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) loan program through which they sought to lower their interest rates or shorten the terms of their mortgages. More than 1.2 million of these loans have been issued over the past 10 years, and as much as 90 percent may involve some degree of fraud.
In defrauding these veterans and their families with excess fees, the banks allegedly also benefitted by receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in loan guarantees from the VA. That resulted in better prices from the loans that banks and mortgage brokers sold to investors. And as more of these loans went into default or foreclosure, it was ultimately American taxpayers who were on the line.
If true, this type of behavior is illegal and it’s un-American. There is no question about that. Despite what some of our nation’s largest banks may believe, the men and women who have honorably served our country deserve better than this. They have earned as much. Nevertheless, this lawsuit comes on the heels of multiple settlements that have been reached in legal actions against banks that have illegally seized homes, overcharged and defrauded members of the U.S. military. This is an alarming trend that cannot stand. And it must not continue.
The men and women who are serving or have served in uniform should never have to struggle to receive the protections due to them and their families under law. At the same time, we owe it to hard-working taxpayers in Montana and across the country to recover any federal funds that have been lost through the illegal actions of unscrupulous actors.
As the Department of Justice begins taking more aggressive steps to address this matter, I urge you to work with Congress in a close and productive manner.
I look forward to your response.