The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara filed a civil suit Oct. 9 against Wells Fargo, accusing the nation’s fourth largest bank of “reckless” mortgage fraud in its approval of more than 100,000 loans for Federal Housing Administration insurance, Forbes reported.
Banks have to follow FHA program rules and maintain quality control standards before approving mortgages for government-backed insurance, and Bharara alleged that Wells Fargo failed in this regard and that it instead engaged in a “longstanding and reckless trifecta of deficient training, deficient underwriting and deficient disclosure, all while relying on the convenient backstop of government insurance,” Forbes reported.
According to the suit, Wells Fargo certified more than 100,000 mortgages for FHA insurance between 2001 and 2005 knowing that the loans did not qualify. Bharara’s office alleged that “Wells Fargo knew that its underwriters routinely failed to perform basic due diligence, failed to verify information in the loan file that bore directly on the borrower’s ability to make payments on the mortgage, and repeatedly certified mortgage loans that contained serious defects and departures from HUD’s underwriting standards,” Forbes reported.
Bharara further claimed that the bank placed its focus on volume and profits rather than on loan quality.
Wells Fargo denied the allegations and noted that its FHA delinquency rates have been half that of the national average, Forbes reported. Until now, Wells Fargo had avoided most of the lawsuits and charges that have been levied against its fellow megabanks.
Anthony Michael Sabino, a professor at St. John’s University’s Peter J. Tobin College of Business, told Forbes he’s not sure the lawsuit will hold up. “The complaint is reported to make allegations for actions dating back over a decade. If so, then where were the feds over the last 10 years? Shouldn’t the regulators have to answer as to why they did not uncover this alleged wrongdoing sooner?”