“Cold and calculating and not willing to take the tiniest bit of responsibility” is how federal whistleblower Sandra Jolley describes Joseph Otting, President Donald Trump’s pick for comptroller of the currency, the nation’s chief bank regulator.
Otting’s confirmation hearing is scheduled for Thursday before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs.
“There shouldn’t even be a hearing,” said Jolley, whose disclosures resulted in an $89 million fraud settlement between the Department of Justice and Otting’s old bank.
The government had alleged Financial Freedom Senior Funding, a division of OneWest, where Otting was CEO, bilked taxpayers by wrongfully foreclosing on borrowers and then sticking the government with excess insurance payments on federally insured reverse mortgages.
Otting could not be reached for comment. In an email, Gina Prioria, a spokeswoman for CIT – a New York-based holding company that purchased OneWest in 2015 – said her firm was “pleased to have resolved” the claims that stemmed from Jolley’s allegation, adding that “the settlement is within the company’s reserve.”
CIT fired Otting shortly after purchasing the company from a private equity fund run by Steve Mnuchin, now Trump’s treasury secretary. It paid Otting a reported $12 million in severance.
Jolley said she learned of the fraud fighting what she said was a wrongful foreclosure on her parents’ Southern California home. She said the company’s improper activities started with its sales tactics.
“My dad was in the last month of his life with terminal cancer on narcotic pain medication. And my mother had Alzheimer’s disease and couldn’t complete a sentence,” Jolley said.
But after her father saw a television advertisement featuring James Garner and Robert Wagner – “men he always respected,” Jolley said – a salesman visited the house. “It was predatory through and through,” she said.
After Otting’s appointment, two House Democrats, Rep. Maxine Waters of California and Rep. Al Green on Texas, wrote to the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, asking for a congressional inquiry into the $89 million settlement.
“A myriad of questions remain regarding the impartiality and adequacy of the settlement,” the Democrats wrote.
“The Administration has not announced what steps it will take to assure the public that no special treatment will be provided for one of their own.”
The letter noted a number of irregularities, including the Justice Department’s decision not to make the agreement public. “It is crucial that the Committee take steps to ensure that the settlement with and investigations into Secretary Mnuchin’s former bank have operated and will operate without White House interference.”
A spokeswoman for Committee Chairman Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, did not respond to requests for comment.
Documents obtained from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, show Financial Freedom foreclosed on 16,000 homes between the spring of 2009, when it was acquired by OneWest, and the end of 2015, when Otting was fired.
Though its share of the reverse mortgage market was just 17 percent, it was responsible for 39 percent of reverse mortgage foreclosures.
The bank is also being investigated by HUD for discriminatory lending. According to a redlining complaint filed in February by the California Reinvestment Coalition, OneWest violated the Fair Housing Act by giving fewer mortgages to people of color and locating fewer branches in communities of color.
“It’s crazy,” said the coalition’s Kevin Stein. “Mr. Otting would be regulating all the national banks in America when we question how closely they followed the rules when he was the CEO.”
During the past two years of Otting’s tenure, federal banking records show OneWest made just five home loans to black borrowers and 26 to Hispanics – despite being headquartered in Southern California.
At least three Democratic senators — Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada – have come out against Otting’s confirmation. To date, however, no Republicans have expressed public skepticism about his appointment.
Aaron Glantz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @Aaron_Glantz.