Wells Fargo, Chase To Pay $35.7M For Allowing Illegal Mortgage Kickbacks

Federal law prohibits giving or receiving kickbacks in exchange for a referral of business related to a real-estate-settlement service, but for four years a now-defunct title company in Maryland provide cash, marketing materials and consumer information in exchange for referrals. And now the banks have agreed to pay more than $35 million — including $11.1 million in redress to affected consumers — for their sins.

Before going out of business in 2014, Genuine Title offered real-estate-closing services. To win over more business, Genuine crossed the legal line by exchanging cash and services with loan officers at various bank locations.

In some cases, Genuine would do grunt work for the banks, creating and printing letters with the banks’ logos then actually stuffing them into envelopes and mailing them for the bank. The banks would then refer homebuyers to Genuine for their closing service needs.

“Homeowners were steered toward this title company, not because they were the best or most affordable, but because they were providing kickbacks to loan officers who referred consumers to them,” explains Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh. “This type of quid pro quo arrangement is illegal, and it’s unfair to other businesses that play by the rules.”

According to the complaint [PDF] filed in federal court by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Frosh’s office, a CFPB investigation turned up more than 100 Wells Fargo loan officers in at least 18 branches who were allegedly involved in illegal tit-for-tatting with Genuine Title, resulting in thousands of customers being referred to the title company.

One particular now-former Wells Fargo employee was named as a defendant alongside the bank, as he not only received free marketing materials in exchange for referrals, he also allegedly took cash from Genuine, who funneled the money through his then-girlfriend, who is now his wife and co-defendant.

The CFPB also claims that Wells Fargo ignored multiple warnings about the Genuine Title kickbacks and allowed them to continue.

Under a proposed consent order filed today, Wells Fargo would pay $10.8 million in redress to consumers whose loans were involved in this scheme, along with another $24 million in civil penalties.

Meanwhile, loan officers at multiple JPMorgan chase locations were also illegally referring business to Genuine Title, alleges the complaint. At least six Chase loan officers in three different branches have been tied to the scheme, resulting in around 200 loans being referred to the Maryland company.

Given its lesser apparent involvement in the kickbacks, Chase faces significantly smaller penalties. The current proposed consent order would require the bank to pay back approximately $300,000 to affected consumers and $600,000 in civil penalties.

The Wells Fargo loan officer and his wife who took the cash kickbacks from Genuine face a civil penalty of $30,000 he would be banned from participation in the mortgage industry for two years.

“These banks allowed their loan officers to focus on their own illegal financial gain rather than on treating consumers fairly,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray in a statement. “Our action today to address these practices should serve as a warning for all those in the mortgage market.”