The Department of Justice announced last week that Branch Banking & Trust Company (BB&T) has agreed to pay the United States $83 million to resolve allegations that it violated the False Claims Act by knowingly originating and underwriting mortgage loans insured by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Federal Housing Administration (FHA) that did not meet applicable requirements. BB&T is headquartered in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
“The FHA program depends on Direct Endorsement Lenders endorsing only eligible loans for FHA mortgage insurance, and complying with HUD’s quality control requirements,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “Lenders like BB&T that participate in the FHA program must make adherence to the FHA program rules a priority. The Department has and will continue to hold accountable those lenders that prioritize profits over program compliance.”
“While profiting from the FHA program, BB&T exposed the taxpayers to losses by failing to comply with HUD guidelines, and then took the additional step of falsely certifying that it had complied with such guidelines,” said U.S. Attorney John Horn of the Northern District of Georgia. “This settlement recovers substantial losses caused by BB&T’s decision to place its own profits above its commitment to adhere to HUD underwriting and quality control requirements.”
Since at least January 2006, BB&T has participated as a Direct Endorsement lender (DEL) in the FHA insurance program. A DEL has the authority to originate, underwrite, and endorse mortgages for FHA insurance. If a DEL approves a mortgage loan for FHA insurance and the loan later defaults, the holder of the loan may submit an insurance claim to HUD, FHA’s parent agency, for the losses resulting from the defaulted loan. Under the DEL program, the FHA does not review a loan before it is endorsed for FHA insurance for compliance with FHA’s credit and eligibility standards, but instead relies on the efforts of the DEL to verify compliance. DELs are therefore required to follow program rules designed to ensure that they are properly underwriting and certifying mortgages for FHA insurance.
The settlement announced today resolves allegations that BB&T failed to comply with certain FHA origination, underwriting and quality control requirements. As part of the settlement, BB&T admitted to the following facts: Between Jan. 1, 2006 and Sept. 30, 2014, it certified for FHA insurance mortgage loans that did not meet HUD underwriting requirements and did not adhere to FHA’s quality control requirements. BB&T significantly increased its loan volume between 2006 and 2009—more than doubling all loan originations, while increasing the number of FHA insured loans six fold. This increase in volume was accompanied by an increase in the number of loans internally rated “Serious-Marketability” by BB&T’s quality control department —the most significant quality control defect rating and a defect that rendered a loan ineligible for FHA insurance. Between 2007 and 2011, the percentage of loans underwritten by BB&T each year that were rated Serious-Marketability by its quality control department always exceeded 30 percent, and exceeded as much as 50 percent in 2010 and 2011. BB&T nevertheless endorsed many of these loans for FHA insurance and, if they defaulted, sought payment from HUD for the insured loans.
The monthly reviews and reports that BB&T’s quality control department shared with management alerted BB&T to deficiencies in many of its FHA loans. A 2010 internal memorandum at BB&T stated that “increased volume of FHA requests and changes to regulatory requirements have resulted in origination, processing and underwriting errors. Some employees are not applying current and accurate FHA guidelines.” A proposal to improve BB&T’s underwriting of FHA loans with additional training as well as a testing and certification process for underwriters was prepared in 2010, but neither recommendation was implemented until after 2014.
Additionally, between 2006 and 2014, BB&T’s quality control process did not satisfy certain FHA requirements. Although loan volume more than doubled from 2006 to 2009, the number of quality control employees remained the same. The quality control department requested additional employees in 2009, yet new employees were not added until 2013. Because BB&T’s quality control department did not have adequate staff, it instituted a cap on the number of loans it reviewed. As a result, between 2009 and 2014, the quality control department did not always review the number of loans necessary to comply with HUD’s loan review sampling requirements. Additionally, BB&T did not perform reviews of its lender branch offices, as required by HUD, before beginning the reviews again in late 2014.
Finally, since at least 2006, HUD has required self-reporting. However, despite internal ratings showing that 30 percent or more of the loans underwritten by BB&T between 2007 and 2011 had Serious-Marketability findings, and were thus ineligible for FHA insurance, BB&T did not self-report any loans containing material underwriting defects until 2013.
As a result of BB&T’s conduct and omissions, HUD insured loans endorsed by BB&T that were not eligible for FHA mortgage insurance under the DEL program, and that HUD would not otherwise have insured. HUD subsequently incurred substantial losses when it paid insurance claims on those loans.
“Lenders are required to apply FHA’s standards to each mortgage loan we insure and to honestly certify to us that they’ve done so,” said Associate General Counsel Dane M. Narode for HUD’s Program Enforcement. “Today’s settlement reminds all lenders that sound underwriting is the bedrock of a healthy housing market and the financial futures of homeowners we support.”
“Today’s settlement agreement resolves allegations that BB&T, entrusted by American taxpayers to comply with FHA regulations, failed to conform with certain FHA origination, underwriting and quality control requirements,” said Inspector General David A. Montoya for HUD. “This settlement demonstrates a continued commitment to address the failures and halt the business practices that potentially harm the FHA program and its participants.”
The settlement was the result of a joint investigation conducted by HUD, the HUD Office of Inspector General, the Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia. The claims asserted against BB&T are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.