Whistle-blower case targets big banks over fees on refinancings for veterans
A pending whistle-blower lawsuit accuses 13 banks with charging military veterans hidden fees on mortgage refinancing transactions. Some of the nation's big banks — Wells Fargo (WFC), Bank of America Corp. (BAC), and JPMorgan Chase (JPM)— are listed as defendants in the case, along with ten others. The case was filed in 2006, but the court unsealed it recently, according to parties familiar with the matter. Bank of America declined to comment, while JPMorgan and Wells Fargo couldn't be immediately reached. Filed in the U.S. Northern District of Georgia – Atlanta Division, the whistle-blower lawsuit claims the defendants hid illegal fees when refinancing veterans' mortgages that were insured by the government to provide the servicemembers with special loan products. The plaintiffs claim 13 lenders violated a federal statute that prevents financial agencies from imposing "charges or fees against the borrower in excess of those permissible by law." In addition, the plaintiffs say any lender that does not comply with the law is not entitled to having a taxpayer-backed guaranty that will insure the loan in case of default. "This is a massive fraud on the American taxpayers and American veterans," said co-lead counsel in the case, James Butler of Atlanta law firm Butler, Wooten & Fryhofer LLP. "Knowing they weren't allowed to charge the fees, the banks and mortgage companies inflated allowable charges to hide these illegal fees without telling the veterans who were the borrowers or the VA they were doing so." The plaintiffs are suing for civil penalties to compensate the government for damages stemming from false or fraudulent records, statements and claims that violated the federal False Claims Act. Write to Kerri Panchuk.