By Nate Raymond
NEW YORK (Reuters) – A federal jury has ordered two Texas-based home mortgage entities and their chief executive to pay nearly $93 million for defrauding the U.S. government into insuring thousands of risky loans, according to court records.
Americus Mortgage Corp, AllQuest Home Mortgage Corp, and their founder, Jim Hodge, were found liable on Tuesday by a Houston federal jury for violating the False Claims Act and the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act.
The jury awarded nearly $93 million in damages, including $7.37 million against Hodge, a sum that is subject to mandatory tripling under the False Claims Act. Further penalties are expected, which U.S. District Judge George Hanks will set at a later date, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office said in a press statement released late on Wednesday.
During the period at issue, the companies were known as Allied Home Mortgage Capital Corp and Allied Home Mortgage Corp.
Wendell Odom, their lawyer, said he anticipated an appeal in the case, one of several the U.S. government has brought against lenders following the 2008 financial crisis.
He said the government was seeking to recover damages for “hyper-technical violations of federal regulations” that had little to do with market conditions that led loans to default.
The lawsuit was one of several brought by Bharara’s office against lenders who underwrote loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration’s Direct Endorsement Program.
The lawsuit was announced in 2011, when Bharara’s office intervened in a pending whistleblower case. It was transferred from New York to Texas in 2012.
The government contended that Allied Home Mortgage Capital Corp operated over 100 “shadow” branch offices that originated FHA-insured mortgage loans without approval from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The government said that those undisclosed branches were not subject to HUD oversight and that their mortgage default rates were disguised as the loans were submitted using the ID numbers of approved branches.
Allied Home Mortgage Corp also recklessly underwrote and certified at least 1,192 loans that were ineligible for insurance under HUD’s guidelines, resulting in $85.6 million in losses when the mortgages defaulted, the government said.
Bharara, in announcing the verdict, said the jury “held Mr. Hodge and Allied responsible for their lies and has made them pay for losses the United States suffered on loans that would never have been insured by HUD absent their lies.”
The case is U.S. v. Allied Home Mortgage Corporation, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas, No. 12-02676.
(Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Andrew Hay)