Surprise examinations of mortgage brokerages and lenders in low-income communities in the Boston area are part of a coordinated effort by Massachusetts officials to crack down on mortgage fraud.
In recent weeks, the Massachusetts Division of Banks has issued cease-and-desist orders and closed the doors of six mortgage brokerages that allegedly submitted false information about borrower’s incomes to lenders.
In one instance, a broker used a Web site approved by his company to verify salary information to instead systematically inflate borrower incomes by 125 percent, investigators said. In another, a broker altered a letter from an applicant’s employer to conceal the fact that the worker made $11 an hour — not $78,000 a year, as claimed. In other cases, brokers submitted loan applications with inflated incomes contradicted by documents such as W-2 statements and telephone work sheets.
Commissioner of Banks Steven L. Antonakes told Inman News that although the initial sweeps were conducted at random, the publicity around them has generated additional tips and leads that are now being investigated. The random sweeps in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods continue, and could lead to criminal charges in some cases, he said.
Although the examinations have targeted mortgage brokers, investigators will also examine the role of lenders and the applicants themselves in the problem loan applications that turn up, Antonakes said.
In the most recent investigation, the Division of Banks on Sept. 8 issued four cease-and-desist orders against mortgage brokerages in Worcester, North Grafton, Lynn and Lawrence. The Division shut down two brokerages in Lawrence on Aug. 11.
The cease-and-desist orders followed surprise inspections in which investigators simply walked into brokerages and pulled loan files looking for discrepancies.
When the Division conducted an on-site inspection of Achieva Home Loans’ Worcester office Aug. 30, investigators discovered that the income information provided on several loan applications “differed significantly” from documents the brokers had in their possession, including W-2 forms and telephone worksheets. According to the cease-and-desist order later issued against the company, one applicant’s W-2 showed $26,862 in wages, but the income reported to lenders was nearly double that amount, or $49,200. A telephone worksheet showed another applicant reported $24,000 in annual income, but lenders were told she earned $52,620.
A surprise inspection the same day at Equity Solutions Inc. in North Grafton turned up income discrepancies on at least four loans. According to the cease-and-desist order filed against the company, a payroll stub in one applicant’s file indicated earnings of $54,158 a year. Lenders were told the applicant made 75 percent more — or $95,088.
The inspection also turned up documents showing Equity Solutions submitted three loan applications from the same borrower to two different lenders, in which all three homes were claimed as the borrower’s future primary residence. The applications also provided false information about the buyer’s work history and contact information. Company president Chad Borci, who was listed as the interviewer on two of the applications, “indicated he did not have an explanation” for the discrepancies.
At Fintera Capital Corp.’s office in Lynn, branch manager Edward Martinez found himself the subject of similar questioning on Aug. 30, when investigators turned up potential problems with three loan applications.
In one instance, the income of a co-borrower who makes $15 an hour as a machine operator was stated as $90,000 — an overstatement of as much as $58,800, the Division estimated in the cease-and-desist order later issued against the company.
Martinez told the Division in a letter that his lenders allowed him to use the Web site www.salary.com, which provides statistics on wages by occupation and geographic region, to “gross up 25 percent from the highest income.”
A copy of Fintera’s underwriting standards obtained by the Division of Banks recommends that the company’s brokers use Web sites “similar to www.salary.com” to “validate whether income stated is reasonable.” But investigators believe the Web site was instead used to establish income reported to lenders.
When the Division of Banks investigators showed up at National Lending Corp.’s offices in Lawrence, they found employees “unable or unwilling to provide the complete documents, agreements, papers, records, or correspondence relating to the residential mortgage loans brokered by National Lending through the Lawrence location.”
When the Division went to the company’s office in Lowell, “the examiners discovered that the Lowell location was closed and there were no personnel of National Lending on site to permit the conduct of the … inspection,” according to a cease-and-desist order later filed against the company.
Among the documents the examiners were able to inspect, they discovered a verification of employment letter in one file “that had been altered to conceal the … applicant’s actual hourly income” of $11 an hour. Although National Lending only had documentation to prove income of $38,000 a year (including projected rental income), it reported the applicant’s income to the lender as $93,120.
Last month, the Division of Banks issued cease-and-desist orders against Lawrence-based Diamond Mortgage Services and Synergy Mortgage Group, which share the same address in Lawrence. Diamond Mortgage agreed to pay a $200,000 fine and close its Lawrence office, but will continue to operate in Taunton.
The other companies that were issued cease-and-desist orders have the right to request hearings challenging the orders.