Chevy Chase Bank accused of overcharging minorities; Capital One to pay $2.85 million

Capital One has agreed to pay $2.85 million in damages to settle allegations that Chevy Chase Bank — which it purchased in 2009 — charged African American and Hispanic mortgage seekers higher interest rates and fees than white borrowers for no other reason than their race or national origin, court filings show.

In documents filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, the Justice Department said that Chevy Chase mortgage loan officers would, on average, charge minority borrowers hundreds of dollars more than white borrowers — in large part because the loan officers were given broad discretion to charge additional fees or give price concessions to customers. The discriminatory practices lasted from 2006 to 2009, when Capital One’s purchase of Chevy Chase triggered inspections of Chevy Chase’s records, the federal government alleged.

Government attorneys said that more than 3,100 African American and Hispanic residential mortgage borrowers were discriminated against. Internal auditors for Capital One found particular disparities at Chevy Chase’s branches in Virginia Beach and in Virginia’s Springfield-Tysons Corner area, and government investigators found disparities at the Newport News, Va., and Bethesda branches, court filings show. For example, investigators found that the branch in Springfield-Tysons Corner would charge an African American borrowing $250,000 about $950 more than a white borrower in 2007, court filings show.

As part of the deal with the government, Capital One denied the allegations but agreed to the settlement to avoid the expense and risk of more litigation. If a judge approves the agreement, the $2.85 million will be set aside in a fund used to reimburse those who were discriminated against, according to court filings.

Capital One had already repaid 279 borrowers who were overcharged, and the allegations do not concern any of its lending practices, court filings show.

Justice attorneys said those affected by the unfair lending practices — 44 percent African Americans and 56 percent Hispanics — were spread across the country but with a “concentration” in the District, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.

A spokeswoman for Capital One declined to comment on the settlement.

Chevy Chase Bank is the latest bank accused of violating federal fair lending laws by discriminating against mortgage applicants. Justice has settled at least seven similar cases in the five year since the housing market collapsed.

In the largest fair lending settlement, Bank of America agreed to pay $335 million in 2011 to resolve claims that its Countrywide Financial unit not only charged black and Hispanic borrowers higher fees, but also steered them into riskier loans in the lead-up to the financial crisis. Investigators found evidence that the mortgage company overcharged more than 200,000 minority borrowers between 2004 and 2008. What’s more, more than 10,000 black and Hispanic borrowers were advised to take out high-price, risky subprime mortgages, even though they could have qualified for more traditional loans.

Nearly a year after the Bank of America agreement, Wells Fargo handed the government $175 million to settle a similar fair lending case rooted in a lawsuit filed by the city of Baltimore. Federal prosecutors said the bank engaged in “systemic discrimination” spanning 36 states and involving more than 34,000 minority customers over five years.

“Banks must be held accountable for these illegal practices, which led to the housing crisis and were visited upon African Americans and Latinos in the years before the crisis hit the entire economy,” said Shanna L. Smith, president and chief executive of the National Fair Housing Alliance.  

Once the largest bank based in the Washington area, Chevy Chase has had other run-ins with federal authorities over its lending practices. In 1993, the Justice Department accused the bank of engaging in “redlining,” the practice of banking only in predominantly white neighborhoods while bypassing African American communities. The charges stemmed from a Washington Post series on the racially biased practices of local  banks. Chevy Chase, which never admitted any wrongdoing, agreed to invest $11 million over five years in black communities in the Washington area as a part of its settlement with Justice.

Matt Zapotosky covers the federal district courthouse in Alexandria, where he tries to break news from a windowless office in which he is not allowed to bring his cell phone.
Danielle Douglas covers the banking industry for The Washington Post.
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