U.S. Justice Department in Washington (Michael A. Scarcella/ ALM Media)
A whistleblower was awarded $9.4 million Tuesday for her role in raising concerns about possible misconduct at the New Jersey-based mortgage lender PHH Corp., which will pay $74.5 million overall to resolve claims the company’s loan practices put borrowers and the U.S. government at risk.
The settlement, announced by the U.S. Justice Department, resolved allegations that PHH failed to comply with federal requirements for loans insured, guaranteed and purchased by various federal agencies. The Justice Department had alleged that, between 2006 and 2011, PHH certified ineligible loans for Federal Housing Administration insurance, setting the government up for steep losses when it paid insurance claims on those mortgages.
“Government mortgage programs designed to assist homeowners—including programs offered by the FHA, VA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac—depend on lenders to approve only eligible loans,” said Chad Readler, the acting assistant attorney general for the Civil Division, in a prepared statement. “The department has and will continue to hold accountable lenders that knowingly cause the government to guarantee, insure, or purchase loans that are materially deficient and put both the homeowner and the taxpayers at risk.”
PHH, represented by the Washington-based firm Buckley Sandler, noted that the company resolved the allegations without admitting liability “in order to avoid the distraction and expense of potential litigation.”
“While we cooperated fully in these investigations since receiving subpoenas in 2013, we concluded that settling these matters is in the best interest of PHH and its constituents,” the company said. “Adhering to high legal, regulatory and ethical standards is at the core of how we conduct business, and we remain committed to serving our customers and all of our stakeholders consistent with that principle.”
For former PHH underwriter Mary Bozzelli, the settlement brings a multimillion-dollar payout. Her attorney, Nelson Thomas of Thomas & Solomon in Rochester, New York, said he was satisfied with the $9.4 million whistleblower bounty.
“It’s a real credit to Mary here that she was willing to put her neck out on the line for this. It is a good day all around and it’s good to see that whistleblowers can ultimately have good things happen to them, which they deserve,” Thomas said.
Thomas said Bozzelli “felt a lot of internal pressure at the company. The company was asking her to do things that just weren’t proper.” That stress, he said, drove Bozzelli out of the mortgage industry.
PHH’s settlement doesn’t resolve all of its outstanding legal risks. The company is fighting a $109 million penalty lodged by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, in a case that contests the constitutionality of the Obama-era agency.
PHH enlisted former Solicitor General Ted Olson, a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in Washington, to argue against the constitutionality of the CFPB’s independent, single-director design. The en banc U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in May heard oral argument.