The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced Tuesday that Financial Freedom, a reverse mortgage servicer one by OneWest, agreed to an $89 million settlement to resolve allegations that the company violated the False Claims Act and the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act (FIRREA).
More specifically, the settlement relates to Financial Freedom’s recovery of mortgage insurance payments from the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) that the company was allegedly not entitled to.
With a reverse mortgage, homeowners 62 years of age and older can access equity in their homes by borrowing money against that equity. The FHA protects lenders from loss by providing mortgage insurance through its Home Equity Conversion Mortgages (HECM) program, which ensures that the reverse mortgage lender is repaid the amount of the loan (plus the costs of servicing the loan and any interest that accrues on lender expenses) after a loan becomes due and payable upon the death of the homeowner, or after the home is sold.
Through the program, the FHA reimburses a lender that is unable to recover the full amount of the loan. However, the servicer must meet various regulatory requirements and deadlines in order to qualify for that money.
According to the DOJ, Financial Freedom asked for and received payments from the FHA even though it did not fulfill its obligations. The DOJ alleged that Financial Freedom tried to obtain insurance payments for interest from the FHA despite “failing to properly disclose on the insurance claim forms it filed with the agency that the mortgagee was not eligible for such interest payments because it had failed to meet various deadlines relating to appraisal of the property, submission of claims to HUD, and pursuit of foreclosure proceedings.”
As a result, from March 31, 2011 to August 31, 2016, the mortgagees on the reverse mortgage loans serviced by Financial Freedom allegedly “obtained additional interest that they were not entitled to receive.”
The DOJ investigation into Financial Freedom’s reverse mortgage practices came about from a whistleblower tip from Sandra Jolley, a consultant for the estates of borrowers who took out HECM loans. Jolley will receive $1.6 million under a provision of FIRREA which allows whistleblowers to obtain in a share of the recovery.