Following allegations in a lawsuit that 13 major banks defrauded veterans out of hundreds of millions of dollars with illegal fees to refinance home loans, the chairman of a Senate consumer protection panel Wednesday called on the departments of Justice and Veterans Affairs to release any internal investigations related to the suit.
The whistleblower lawsuit, first reported by The Washington Post Tuesday, alleges that the banks disguised unallowable attorney fees on refinancing loans guaranteed by the VA. The suit, which was filed in 2006 in the U.S. District Court in Atlanta., was unsealed Monday.
“Yesterday, we learned that abuses of veterans may run even deeper than we previously knew,” Sen. Sherrod Brown, (D-Ohio), chairman of the Senate Banking Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Protection Panel and a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs
The two Georgia mortgage brokers who brought the suit said they were instructed by lenders not to show attorney fees on loan forms, but to instead add them to the title examination fee. The brokers, Victor E. Bibby and Brian Donnelly, brought their allegations to the government over five years ago. They said the alleged illegal fees continued as a widespread practice until the VA warned banks against the action in 2010.
Brown asked the government agencies to report what actions they have taken in response to the allegations. The VA and Justice Department did not immediately reply to requests for comment.
“No consumer should be forced to pay illegal fees, but it is particularly disgraceful to impose such extraction schemes on our veterans," Brown said in the letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.
Among the companies named in the suit are Wells Fargo, Bank of America and SunTrust Mortgage.
The suit has been filed under the False Claims Act by private attorneys representing the whistleblowers, and seeks to recover damages and civil penalties on behalf of the government. The Justice Department has notified the court in Atlanta that it is not taking over the case but is reserving the right to intervene at a later date, according to court papers.
Sally Quillian Yates, United States attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, said Tuesday that the government “will consider intervening . . . if it becomes appropriate to do so.”