The Franklin American Mortgage Company has agreed to pay the United States $70 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, the Justice Department announced today. Franklin American is headquartered in Franklin, Tennessee.“This settlement is another step forward in the government’s efforts to hold lenders accountable for the harm caused by years of improper and inadequate underwriting of mortgages insured by the federal government,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “As this settlement makes clear, we will hold accountable anyone whose conduct results in loss to the government, whether it is a large bank or a smaller mortgage lender.”
“Franklin promised that its loans met HUD’s quality standards in order to obtain HUD insurance, but ignored widespread, systemic defects in those loans,” said U.S. Attorney John F. Walsh of the District of Colorado. “This case is the latest step in our ongoing effort to hold lenders accountable for fraudulent conduct that wreaked havoc on our housing market.”
During the time period covered by the settlement, Franklin American 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, the FHA’s parent agency, for the losses resulting from the defaulted loan. Under the DEL program, neither the FHA nor HUD reviews a loan before it is endorsed for FHA insurance. DELs are therefore required to follow program rules designed to ensure that they are properly underwriting and certifying mortgages for FHA insurance; to maintain a quality control program that can prevent and correct deficiencies in their underwriting practices; and to self-report any deficient loans identified by their quality control program.
The settlement announced today resolves allegations that Franklin American failed to comply with certain FHA origination, underwriting and quality control requirements. As part of the settlement, Franklin American admitted to the following facts: between Jan. 1, 2006, and March 31, 2012, it certified for FHA insurance mortgage loans that did not meet HUD underwriting requirements. Franklin American’s FHA loan production grew substantially from 2006 until 2010. During this time, Franklin American employed unqualified junior underwriters to perform important underwriting functions. Franklin American also set high quotas for its underwriters and subjected underwriters to discipline if they did not meet their quotas. The company also sought to incentivize the production of loans by offering bonuses to its FHA underwriters. Loans underwritten by Franklin American were later reviewed in post-close audits. Oftentimes, those audits did not satisfy HUD’s requirements. Nevertheless, the audits identified substantial percentages of seriously deficient loans underwritten by Franklin American. Although these deficient loans were shared with management, Franklin American reported very few deficiencies to HUD. Franklin American’s conduct caused the FHA to insure hundreds of loans that were not eligible and, as a result, the FHA suffered substantial losses when it later paid insurance claims on those loans.
“The resolution of this matter against Franklin American reflects that all loan originators, whether large or small, receive the same scrutiny of their FHA loan underwriting practices,” said Inspector General David A. Montoya of the HUD Office of Inspector General (OIG). “The FHA program depends on the good faith and utmost integrity of the participants in the program and we will continue to devote substantial resources to identify instances in which participants in the FHA program fail to meet those standards.”
“Today’s settlement demonstrates HUD’s commitment to hold lenders accountable for serious violations of FHA requirements,” said General Counsel Helen R. Kanovsky of HUD’s Office of General Counsel. “We’re pleased that Franklin American accepted financial responsibility for its actions, which will restore funds to FHA.”
The settlement was the result of a joint investigation conducted by HUD, HUD OIG, the Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch and the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the District of Colorado.