WASHINGTON — The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reached an $85,000 settlement Wednesday with a former Wells Fargo mortgage loan officer.
The CFPB alleges that David Eghbali, a loan officer for a Wells Fargo branch in Beverly Hills, Calif., developed a scheme to manipulate escrow fees in order to close more mortgages and boost his bonus.
"We have taken action against an individual loan officer for illegal mortgage fee-shifting," CFPB Director Richard Cordray said in a press release. "This should send a strong message that the law must be followed not only by large financial institutions, but also by the individuals who work for them."
According to the CFPB press release, Eghbali capitalized on an arrangement with New Millennium Escrow between 2013 and 2015 to shift around escrow fees, lowering them for certain customers and making up for the cost by tacking on higher fees for other customers.
The CFPB says the plan helped Eghbali close deals by offering "no cost" loans to consumers who otherwise would have shopped around for better deal while charging more to less cost-conscious customers.
But Eghbali denied any wrong doing and said he signed the consent order only because of the high cost of litigating the case.
"I am deeply shocked that the CFPB chose to pursue a regulatory action against me on a novel and frankly bizarre theory — that obtaining low or zero fee escrow services for certain of my clients somehow delivered an improper 'benefit' to me at the expense of my clients," Eghbali said in a statement.
"I was bullied into entering the consent order because the CFPB left me no other reasonable choice. … The extraordinary cost of fighting these allegations in prolonged litigation against such a powerful federal agency was not possible for an individual in my circumstance."
The CFPB used its authority to take action against unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices and said the arrangement violated the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, which prohibits fees and kickbacks for referrals related to the real estate settlement services.
"At no time," Eghbali said, "did I understand or believe that the way I structured my clients' loans was in violation of RESPA or any other law or regulation. In fact, I was never provided any guidance or training regarding RESPA during the period at issue."
Wells Fargo said in a statement that its "existing compliance processes and controls worked effectively to identify and address these isolated activities," and that after determining there were "improper activities," it cut ties with Eghbali and New Millennium Escrow.
Eghbali was a national top producer for Wells Fargo, including 2013-15, when the scheme was alleged to have taken place. The consent order requires he take a year off from the mortgage business, but Eghabali said he will continue professionally.