Government LendingLegalMortgageOrigination

Ex-chief of staff accuses The Change Company of “mischaracterizing loans” 

Adam Levine said the nonbank lender made false representations on borrowers race, ethnicity and income level

A former high-ranking employee at nonbank The Change Company CDFI (TCC) filed a lawsuit in California accusing the company of retaliation after he notified executives of employees “mischaracterizing loans” to apparently skirt federal reporting requirements. 

The lawsuit, filed in Orange County, alleges that Adam Levine, the chief of staff to CEO Steven Sugarman, began reporting illegal activity by the company’s employees in February 2023 to Sugarman and other executives and board members. 

However, rather than investigating the complaints, the company’s leadership terminated Levine, he claims. 

A representative for The Change Company and Levine’s attorneys did not return requests for comment.

Levine, who was an assistant White House Press Secretary under President George W. Bush and a vice president at Goldman Sachs before starting at the lender in 2021, listed several alleged violations related to lending practices. 

The list includes potential irregularities regarding the Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) regulations, specifically a rule requiring lenders to provide annual documentation attesting that 60% of their loans go to the target markets certified by the U.S. Department of Treasury

“Plaintiff has documented that TCC falsifies information on its annual certification by mischaracterizing its loans. This includes mischaracterizing the race, ethnicity, and income level of borrowers,” attorneys for Levine wrote in the lawsuit. 

The lender claims that since becoming a CDFI in 2018, it has funded over $25 billion in loans to more than 75,000 families. 

The lawsuit cites potential securities fraud when investors are induced to purchase the lender’s loans in the secondary market based on the false representations on the borrowers’ profiles. Investors looking to support low-income families would not purchase the lender’s loans if they knew they were provided to wealthy individuals or celebrities, the lawsuit states.  

In its seventh securitization on June 14, The Change Company attracted 16 investors to a $306 million offering, including money managers, banks, insurance companies, and private funds. The loans in the pool had a weighted average FICO of 740, LVT of 71.1%, 43 months of reserves, and an 8.72% note rate, the lender said. 

Other allegations made by Levine include after-hours parties at the lender’s premises and recordings of private conversations at the company’s Pacific Palisades office. The accusations include Steven Sugarman and his older brother, Jason Sugarman, who founded The Change Company. 

Levine claims Steven Sugarman tried to block a lawsuit when he instructed the plaintiff to leak confidential documents to a journalist doing a profile on short-seller Carson Block, with whom Sugarman has civil litigation.  

Meanwhile, Jason Sugarman potentially violated Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) orders by associating with the securities industry – which he has been prohibited from since February based on a consent judgment regarding a scheme to defraud Native American pension funds, the lawsuit contends.

“In light of Jason Sugarman’s known work at TCC, Plaintiff strongly encouraged Steven Sugarman to appoint an outside law firm to certify to regulators, investors, shareholders, and other stakeholders that Jason Sugarman had no material business relationship with TCC,” the lawsuit states. “Steven Sugarman refused to do so and retaliated against Plaintiff by stating that Plaintiff’s business dealings should be investigated.” 

Levine claims he brought his concerns to the appropriate regulatory authority on March 5 and his attorney informed the company the following day. The plaintiff claims he was terminated weeks later without bonus wages and equity compensation that he was “rightfully owned.”  

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