United States Files Complaint Against Nutter Home Loans for Forging Certifications and Using Unqualified Underwriters to Approve Government-Insured Reverse Mortgages

The United States has filed a complaint under the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act of 1989 and the False Claims Act against Nutter Home Loans, f/k/a James B. Nutter & Co. (Nutter), for forging certifications and using unqualified underwriters to approve Federal Housing Administration (FHA) insured Home Equity Conversion Mortgages (HECM), the Department of Justice announced today. 

“The HECM program benefits America’s seniors and our communities,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark of the Department of Justice’s Civil Division.  “The Department is committed to holding accountable those who violate the bedrock requirements of this important program.”

“Companies participating in federal programs must operate with honor and integrity,” said Acting U.S Attorney Michael R. Sherwin for the District of Columbia.  “This settlement sends a clear message that we will not tolerate fraud against programs designed to financially help our nation’s seniors.”

“Lenders who willfully disregard FHA requirements for HECM loans expose the program to significant financial losses that threaten the future availability of this important program to seniors,” said Rae Oliver Davis, Inspector General, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.  “This complaint is evidence that we will tirelessly investigate allegations of abuses of the HECM program by FHA lenders.”

The FHA, part of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), offers numerous mortgage insurance programs intended to help build and sustain strong communities across America.  The HECM program is a reverse mortgage program specifically for senior homeowners age 62 and older.  The program allows seniors to access the equity in their residences, and thereby age in place in their family home, through a mortgage agreement with a lender that is insured against loss by the FHA.  The United States’ complaint alleges that in order to significantly increase its loan production, Nutter used unqualified underwriters lacking the requirements established by HUD to review and approve HECMs that Nutter ultimately insured with the FHA.  Moreover, on other loans, Nutter forged the signatures of qualified underwriters to make it appear that a qualified underwriter had reviewed and approved the loan. 

This matter was investigated by the Commercial Litigation Branch of the Department of Justice’s Civil Division, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, HUD, and HUD’s Office of Inspector General.  The claims asserted against the defendant are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.

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    To combat money laundering, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued a geographic targeting order (GTO) in 2016 that required title insurers to report information on certain all-cash purchases of residential real estate by legal entities in specified areas. According to FinCEN analysis, the use of legal entities to purchase high-value real estate, particularly in certain U.S. cities, was prone to abuse. FinCEN determined that imposing the real estate GTO reporting requirements on title insurers would cover a large number of transactions without unnecessary complexity. FinCEN renewed the real estate GTO multiple times—finding it has yielded information useful to law enforcement investigations—and periodically expanded the types of monetary instruments and geographic areas included and decreased the price reporting threshold (see fig.). Issuance and Renewals of the Real Estate Geographic Targeting Order (GTO) Unlike prior GTOs, which FinCEN officials said they issued at the request of and with the involvement of law enforcement agencies, FinCEN issued the real estate GTO on its own initiative. Thus, FinCEN had to take the lead in implementing and evaluating the GTO but lacked detailed documented procedures to help direct the GTO's implementation and evaluation—contributing to oversight, outreach, and evaluation weaknesses. For example, FinCEN did not begin examining its first title insurer for compliance until more than 3 years after issuing the GTO and did not assess whether insurers were filing all required reports. Similarly, while FinCEN initially coordinated with some law enforcement agencies, it did not implement a systematic approach for outreach to all potentially relevant law enforcement agencies until more than 2 years after issuing the GTO. FinCEN also has not yet completed an evaluation of the GTO to determine whether it should address money laundering risks in residential real estate through a regulatory tool more permanent than the GTO, such as a rulemaking. Strengthening its procedures for self-initiated GTOs should help FinCEN more effectively and efficiently implement and manage them as an anti-money laundering tool. Bad actors seeking to launder money can use legal entities, such as shell companies, to buy real estate without a loan. Doing so potentially can conceal the identities of bad actors and avoid banks' anti-money laundering programs. To better understand this risk and help law enforcement investigate money laundering, FinCEN issued its real estate GTO. Although GTOs are limited to 180 days, they may be renewed if FinCEN finds reasonable grounds for doing so. Because of concerns about the potential for bad actors to exploit regulatory gaps to launder money through the U.S. real estate market, GAO was asked to review FinCEN's real estate GTO. This report examines, among other things, the GTO's issuance and renewal, oversight, outreach, and evaluation. GAO reviewed FinCEN's records, orders, and policies and procedures; laws and regulations; and studies and other related materials. GAO also interviewed FinCEN, federal law enforcement agencies, and other stakeholders. GAO recommends that FinCEN provide additional direction for self-initiated GTOs, including how to plan for oversight, outreach, and evaluation. FinCEN concurred with GAO's recommendation. For more information, contact Michael E. Clements, (202) 512-8678, ClementsM@gao.gov.
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