CHEVY CHASE BANK no longer exists — it was purchased by Capital One in 2009, and its last branch signs disappeared in 2010— but the final years of its existence were apparently not glorious. According to papers filed in federal court by the Justice Department, the bank systematically bilked minority customers seeking mortgages, including at branches in the Washington suburbs, in the three years leading up to its acquisition. Capital One, which assumed legal liability when it bought the bank, has agreed to pay $2.85 million in damages.
The settlement is peanuts compared with other fair-lending cases. In the most notorious instance, Bank of America agreed to pay $335 million in 2011 after federal investigators found evidence that its Countrywide Financial lending arm had overcharged more than 200,000 African American and Hispanic borrowers.
Still, the Chevy Chase settlement is instructive as a codicil to the banking industry’s role in the financial crisis and as a cautionary tale.
According to federal attorneys, the bank ran roughshod over more than 3,100 African American and Hispanic customers who wanted mortgages. At one branch, in central Fairfax County, government investigators found that African American customers who borrowed $250,000 in 2007 were charged points and fees that amounted to $950 more than the amount paid by similarly qualified white borrowers on a mortgage of the same size.
According to the Justice Department, that pattern of discrimination affected black and Hispanic borrowers nationwide, but it was concentrated in the mid-Atlantic region — the District, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.
Capital One has denied the allegations. At the same time, the bank has been at pains to distance itself from the lending practices that prevailed at Chevy Chase prior to its acquisition, which were common among banks in the years before the financial crisis.
That model of mortgage lending was based on aggressive marketing of loans, including in minority communities. At Chevy Chase, “loan production” officers’ compensation was based partly on their success in charging higher rates or fees to mortgage borrowers, and difficult-to-understand terms were not uncommon. Capital One says that after the purchase, it dissolved Chevy Chase’s mortgage business and dismissed its mortgage lending officers.
Some of the lending practices in use at Chevy Chase are now prohibited under the reforms in the Dodd-Frank consumer protection law, enacted in 2010. But a glance at the Justice Department’s Web site, which summarizes recent lending discrimination settlements based on race, national origin and other factors, suggests the job is unfinished.