Inner City Press' Community Reinvestment Reporter

  

     Welcome to Inner City Press’ CRA Report.  Our other Reporters cover the financial services industry, human rights, the Federal Reserve, and other beats.  ICP has published a book about the CRA-relevant topic of predatory lending - click here for sample chapters, a map, and ordering informationCBS MarketWatch of April 23, 2004, says the the novel has "some very funny moments," and that the non-fiction mixes "global statistics and first-person accounts."  The Washington Post of March 15, 2004, calls Predatory Bender: America in the Aughts "the first novel about predatory lending;" the London Times of April 15, 2004, "A Novel Approach," said it "has a cast of colorful characters."  See also, "City Lit: Roman a Klepto [Review of 'Predatory Bender']," City Limits, Oct. 2004.  The Pittsburgh City Paper says the 100-page afterword makes the "indispensable point that predatory lending is now being aggressively exported to the rest of the globe." Click here for that review; click here to Search This Site  Click here for Inner City Press' weekday news reports, from the United Nations and elsewhere.

Click here for Inner City Press' weekday news reports, from the United Nations and elsewhere. Click here for a recent BBC piece on Inner City Press' reporting from the United Nations. New: Follow us on TWITTER   BloggingHeads.tv  Click for March 1, 2011 BloggingHeads.tv re Libya, Sri Lanka, UN Corruption by Inner City Press. 2014: MRL on Beacon Reader  For or with more information, contact us.

June 17, 2019

OCC of Otting Delayed Notice of Mergers Like FOIA Fee Waiver Final Denial to Inner City Press

By Matthew R. Lee, Video, FOIA fee denial

SOUTH BRONX, SDNY, June 15 – With Comptroller of the Currency Joseph Otting moving to undermine the US Community Reinvestment Act, his latest move is to deny access to documents about the application to the OCC for WSFS to acquire Beneficial Bank and close 25 branches. Inner City Press requested the records months ago, along with a request for a waiver of fees as the other Federal bank regulators grant it and as the OCC has until now.

  But Otting is different. First he denied a fee waiver on Inner City Press' request for his calendar. Then he relented on that, after Inner City Press citing case law and precedent. But seemingly in retaliation, he has denied access to a merger application subject to public comment. Denial here on Scribd.

  And now, dated June 11 but e-mailed later, a final denial, after putting Inner City Press through three rounds of more and more detailed argumentation - just to waste its time until long after Otting rubber stamped the merger - accusing Inner City Press of not "explaining how the application submitted by WSFS would contribute significantly to the public’s understanding of the operations or activities of the OCC. As such, your request for a fee waiver is denied. Until you contact the OCC Disclosure Services office with assurance that you will pay associated fees, FOIA request # 2019-00206 will not be processed."

  So the OCC thinks it can hinder public review and public comment by changing the law and its own pre-Otting practice.

  On 1 June 2019 the most recent OCC Weekly Bulletin of bank merger applications on which the comment periods are 30 days is from May 4. Inner City Press tweeted photo here. That is to say, the applications are being hidden until the comment period closes.But we'll have more on this, now that Otting's OCC has fully shown itself.

June 10, 2019

OCC Decides No Public Comments On Fifth Third Application For Conversion Lawless Otting Rules

By Matthew R. Lee, Video, FOIA fee denial

SOUTH BRONX, SDNY, June 8 – With Comptroller of the Currency Joseph Otting moving to undermine the US Community Reinvestment Act, his latest move has been to deny access to documents about the application to the OCC for WSFS to acquire Beneficial Bank and close 25 branches, see below. Otting's pro-bank capitulation is not lost on the industry: now Fifth Third, a long time state chartered member bank regulated by the Federal Reserve, says it has applied for Otting's rogue-like national charter.

 First Otting left his Weekly Bulletin web page unchanged for week, making it impossible for the public to know of the application in order to comment.

  Now, with Fifth Third's application belatedly noticed on the OCC's website, there's more. Otting has decided to thumb his nose at the public and at the law and refuse to list any public comment period, or to accept comment, on the application by a large bank, Fifth Third, to convert to a national charter and pre-empt a slew of consumer protection laws.

See notice here, with no comment period listed; the OCC has said while it acknowledges such applications have include public comment periods in the past, now under Otting they won't.

Prior to this the Otting's New York OCC office told Inner City Press it simply wouldn't take its comment on the takeover of Chinatown FSB. This is lawless deregulation by a former bad banker mad that he got caught. Any other agency, FDIC or Federal Reserve, that work with him is colluding. We'll have more on this.

   Meanwhile the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau under Kathy Kraninger is thumbing its nose at the US Administrative Procedures Act and proposing to undermine the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act.

CFPB is trying three separate but inter-related attacks. The first is to raise the threshold for reporting HMDA data, to exempt wither 36% or 53% of banks and credit unions, a proposal on which the comment period runs only to June 12, here. (Comments are going in from such banks as Village Bank and Hamilton Bank and even, incongruously, Brenda Muniz OF the CFPB.)

  Second is to weaken the "data points" which will be reported by those still required to under HMDA. The CFPB wants to drop such information as "reason for denial" and "debt to income ratio" - the very information that banks so often cite in response to CRA challenged by Fair Finance Watch and others, as justifying their disparities. Now the CFPB wants to not collect this supposed justification of disparities. Just trust us, is the message. Well, no. This comment period runs to July 8, here.

  Finally, without any comment period at all, the CFPB is eliminating the public's front door to the HMDA data, the HMDA Explorer web site that many community groups such as the hundreds that are members of NCRC use to assess banks in their communities. The CFPB wants to take even this away. They should be sued.  We'll have more on this. And see @SDNYLIVE.

June 3, 2019

OCC of Otting Delays Notice of Mergers Until Comment Period Closes Like FOIA Fee Waiver Sleaze

By Matthew R. Lee, Video, FOIA fee denial

SOUTH BRONX, SDNY, June 1 – With Comptroller of the Currency Joseph Otting moving to undermine the US Community Reinvestment Act, his latest move is to deny access to documents about the application to the OCC for WSFS to acquire Beneficial Bank and close 25 branches. Inner City Press requested the records months ago, along with a request for a waiver of fees as the other Federal bank regulators grant it and as the OCC has until now.

  But Otting is different. First he denied a fee waiver on Inner City Press' request for his calendar. Then he relented on that, after Inner City Press citing case law and precedent. But seemingly in retaliation, he has denied access to a merger application subject to public comment. Denial here on Scribd.

  Now on 1 June 2019 the most recent OCC Weekly Bulletin of bank merger applications on which the comment periods are 30 days is from May 4. Inner City Press tweeted photo here. That is to say, the applications are being hidden until the comment period closes. Otting is killing the CRA.

May 27, 2019

After Banker Calk Pled Not Guilty Inner City Press Puts Fraud Q to OCC Where Banker Otting Delays

By Matthew Russell Lee, Video, Alamy photos

SDNY COURTHOUSE, May 24 – Steven M. Calk of FDIC-regulated Federal Savings Bank was presented and arraigned on May 23 for financial institution bribery for corruptly using his position with FSB to issue $16 million in high-risk loans to Paul Manafort in a bid to obtain a senior position with the Trump administration, namely Secretary of the Army.

  Magistrate Judge Debra Freeman in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York accepted the government's proposal of $5 million bond with no co-signer (although that is usually required for moral suasion) and travel allowed throughout the United States (though more defendants are usually confined to the Soutern and Eastern District of NY and one other district). Money talks.

  Afterward in front of the SDNY courthouse Inner City Press asked Calk's lawyers Daniel Stein and Jeremy Margoles about Manafort saying he had misstated his financial situation to get the FSB loans. When did Calk know? They did not answer. Video here, Facebook video here.  Inner City Press' Alamy photos here.

  On May 23, still from the SDNY courthouse covering other cases including one involving the death penalty, Inner City Press reported finding no U.S. Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data for "Federal Savings Bank." But there's more.

The Federal Savings Bank's website, while providing a generic link to the FDIC, and a statement "Member FDIC," has no link for the U.S. Community Reinvestment Act. (Nor does it mention the indictment of Stephen Calk, simply listing his brother John Calk now as CEO and Vice Chairman. Who is the chairman?)

  It lists a loan production office on Avenue J in Brooklyn, and two deposit taking braches in Illinois. Did it see some exemption from the CRA and other consumer protection laws? From fair lending laws?

  Earlier on the morning of May 24 Inner City Press asked the FDIC, "Having covered yesterday's arraignment of the Chairman of The Federal Savings Bank in the SDNY courthouse, including the FDIC's involvement, I checked the bank's website and found "Member FDIC" but no mention of the Community Reinvestment Act."

  The FDIC's spokesperson David Barr, to his credit, responded quickly, writing to Inner City Press: "The Federal Savings Bank, Chicago, is regulated by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. They would be responsible for CRA and regulatory oversight. You should contact the OCC for more information."

  Now the OCC under Comptroller Joseph Otting has done everything possible to block the release of information, denying FOIA fees waivers and expedited treatment, refusing comments. But for now online the OCC has said this about The Federal Savings Bank: "While TFSB originated a substantial majority of its loans outside of its AAs; the bank’s business strategy is to operate as a mortgage banking entity with a nationwide presence and market place. Taking the bank’s business strategy into consideration the bank’s performance under this lending criterion is deemed reasonable." Reasonable? Bribery, too, seems to have been part of its business strategy, right under the nose of the OCC of Otting.

  Before 2 pm on May 24 Inner City Press in writing asked Otting's OCC: "This is a Press question for the OCC, from Inner City Press... Please confirm that The Federal Savings Bank is subject to HMDA, and/or if it is below a threshold, as I can find no data in its name on FFIEC.gov. Also, please today provide as an OCC response to the Press this OCC-regulated bank's CRA public file and other information in the OCC's possession concerning the bank's CRA and fair lending performance.   Is it normal for a bank not to mention these things on its website, nor to provide any link to its actual regulator, the OCC, but only to the FDIC?     Please explain what steps the OCC is taking beyond Stephen Calk no longer being the CEO. What about his brother?"

  More than three hours later, even to the questions at the end, the OCC had only provided this:   "We are reviewing your questions, but we may not be able to respond by your deadline.     Regards,  Stephanie        Stephanie Collins  Manager, Media Relations  Public Affairs Operations  Office of the Comptroller of the Currency." This is the same OCC which has delayed FOR MONTHS providing basic information about a merger it has now already rubber stamped. We'll have more on this.

  Stephen Calk was quoted, at least in 2012, opposing regulation: "As Mr. Stephen Calk writes in the September 7, 2012 edition of Origination News: “Basel III is designed to level the playing field among major banking institutions that operate internationally. Force-feeding these same rules to community banks in the United States is unnecessary and in fact counter-productive, particularly in the current economic environment.” Basel III is one thing. But no Community Reinvestment Act?

The Federal Savings Bank lists locations - and bankers - in       Arizona - Scottsdale California - Irvine Colorado - Fort Collins Delaware - Selbyville Florida - Sarasota Illinois - Chicago Illinois - Lake Forest Illinois - Oak Brook Illinois - Park Ridge Indiana - Bloomington Indiana - Indianapolis Kansas - Overland Park Louisiana - Laplace Maryland - Annapolis Maryland - Timonium CD Massachusetts - Lawrence New Jersey - Hackensack New Jersey - Lakewood New York - Brooklyn New York - Melville New York - New York New York - Queens North Carolina - Raleigh Ohio - Columbus Rhode Island - South Kingstown Tennessee - Nashville Virginia - Alexandria Virginia - Fredericksburg Virginia - Newport News Virginia - Richmond Virginia - Vienna Virginia - Warrenton...  We'll have more on this.

  In the indictment press release, FDIC OIG Special Agent-in-Charge Patricia Tarasca said, “Today’s indictment charges Stephen Calk with misusing his position as Chairman and CEO of a bank for his own personal gain.  The FDIC Office of Inspector General remains committed to investigating cases where bank officials cause multimillion-dollar losses to a financial institution and undermine its integrity.” (The FDIC stands to be the lead regulator of BB&T whose money laundering enforcement action was just terminated by the Federal Reserve to facilitate merger with Suntrust, click here for that and Inner City Press' FOIA request and appeal.)

May 20, 2019

OCC of Otting Told ETRADE It Is Exempt From CRA Inner City Press Finds Under FOIA

By Matthew R. Lee, Exclusive

SOUTH BRONX, May 18 – The US Treasury Department is in a process to try to weaken and take the community out of the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act. Docket file here. The protagonist, akin to Scott Pruitt when he was at the US Environmental Protection Agency, is Comptroller of the Current Joseph Otting. On September 12 Fair Finance Watch (and on FOIA, Inner City Press) commented to the OCC, here. Now on October 11, more on Otting's assault on the CRA has become known. In April 2018 his OCC approved an application by E-Trade Saving Bank which Fair Finance Watch had challenged based on the bank having no fewer than six states rare "Needs to Improve" CRA ratings. FFW noted rare Needs to Improve ratings for the entire states of Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Michigan and Oregon, and an undeserved “Satisfactory” for New York. Otting's OCC, after the approval, helpfully contacted E-Trade Bank to tell it that upon (Otting's) reflection, it was no longer even subject to the Community Reinvestment Act.

 Back in October 2018 Inner City Press asked the OCC for documents about this under FOIA - while the OCC has sought to evade by accessing fees, to this day. But in May 2019 while withholding 1000 pages the OCC released to Inner City Press, like a needle in a hay stack, its June 16, 2018 letter from Assistant Deputy Comptroller for Midsize Bank Supervision William Russell to E*TRADE's Karl Roessner telling him that E*TRADE's banks are exempt from CRA, here. We'll have more on this.

May 13, 2019

FOIA Fee Waiver Appeal To OCC Otting By Inner City Press For His Secret WSFS Bank Merger Docs

By Matthew R. Lee, Video, FOIA fee denial

SOUTH BRONX, SDNY, May 11 – With Comptroller of the Currency Joseph Otting moving to undermine the US Community Reinvestment Act, his latest move is to deny access to documents about the application to the OCC for WSFS to acquire Beneficial Bank and close 25 branches. Inner City Press requested the records months ago, along with a request for a waiver of fees as the other Federal bank regulators grant it and as the OCC has until now.

  But Otting is different. First he denied a fee waiver on Inner City Press' request for his calendar. Then he relented on that, after Inner City Press citing case law and precedent. But seemingly in retaliation, he has denied access to a merger application subject to public comment. Denial here on Scribd.

  Ironically the grounds cited is that releasing this information about a merger subject to public comment would not increase the public's understanding. This shows Otting contempt for CRA - and for the public. Inner City Press has filed this appeal with Otting, et al.:

"Dear Comptroller Otting:    

Inner City Press traditionally has received fee waivers from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency under 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(A)(iii) and 12 C.F.R. § 4.17. Waivers were granted on the basis of similar or identical language contained in the instant Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, which is now the subject of OCC’s waiver rejection. Outrageously, on Inner City Press' FOIA request for the portions of the WSFS - Beneficial merger application that the applicants unilaterally requested confidential treatment for, your FOIA Manager Frank Vance writes:   

 "Concerning the third consideration, contribution to public understanding, we examined whether or not disclosure of the requested records would contribute to the understanding of the public at large, as opposed to the understanding of the requester or a small number of interested persons.  In other words, we considered whether or not you demonstrated how contribution to public understanding outweighs personal benefit to you.  I find that you did not demonstrate this component; therefore, you did not satisfy the regulatory requirement of 12 C.F.R. 4.17(b)(4)(i).  In light of this, there is no need to analyze your justification with respect to 12 C.F.R. 4.17(b)(4)(ii). "     

So you are claiming that the public is not interested in, and should be constrained in access, the bank merger applications on which the public has a right to comment. You are claiming that to get any OCC review of the often outrageously overbroad requests for confidential treatment of the banks you supervise, the public has to pay untold fees. This is a new low, and Inner City Press is appealing.     Inner City Press Is Eligible for a Fee Waiver     In accordance with 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(A)(iii) and 12 C.F.R. § 4.17, Inner City Press is eligible for, and requests, a waiver of fees associated with processing its request for records. The subject of this request—the review of a merger to close at least 25 bank branches -- concerns the operations of the federal government, and the disclosures will likely contribute to a better understanding of relevant government procedures by the general public in a significant way. Moreover, the request is primarily and fundamentally for non-commercial purposes.     Inner City Press requests a waiver of fees because disclosure of the requested information is “in the public interest because the disclosure . . . [i]s likely to contribute significantly to public understanding” of government operations or activities.

 Specifically, the disclosure of the information sought under this request will document and reveal the activities of the federal government, including how your OCC reviews the CRA and branch closing aspects of the merger.      As discussed below, Inner City Press has both the ability and the intention to effectively convey the information it receives to the public.     Inner City Press does not have a commercial interest in the requested information. This request is primarily and fundamentally for non-commercial purposes. Inner City Press does not have a commercial purpose and the release of the information requested is not in its financial interest. Inner City Press’s mission is to engage in cutting-edge investigative reporting focused, fair lending, development, and government accountability advocacy. Core to its mission is to educate the public about government activities and to ensure the accountability of government officials. Inner City Press uses the information gathered, and its analysis of it, to educate the public through reports, press releases, or other media. It also makes materials it gathers available on its public website and promotes their availability on social media platforms. Inner City Press has demonstrated its commitment to the public disclosure of documents and creation of editorial content. For example, Inner City Press’s website contains dozens of articles describing the operations of the federal government from a unique perspective, including about the OCC:  
 In SDNY FreddieMac Via FHFA of Otting Says Its Negligent Late Objection Is Fine As Otting Lawless

 And this.

   Inner City Press’s website contains many more examples demonstrating its ability and intention to inform the public about government activities, including specifically related to how the subject of the instant FOIA request spent his time at OCC.     Accordingly, Inner City Press qualifies for a fee waiver.    

Significantly, well before this outrageous denial which now longer keeps secret the requested documents, even the OCC wrote "your correspondence of March 8 is more robust and sets forth with reasonable specificity the grounds to justify the OCC's granting of the fee waiver. Therefore, your request for a fee waiver with respect to FOLA request 2019-00104 is granted. The OCC's Disclosure Services office will remove the matter from "Hold" status and proceed to process the request."    

Of course, even in that case [about your / Otting's schedule] in the two month since our letter we have not received a single document from your OCC.          

There can be no doubt that Inner City Press qualifies for a waiver based on the foregoing. Moreover, Inner City Press’s long track record of fee waivers is further evidence of our current eligibility. In particular, we have demonstrated repeatedly our intent and ability to inform the public about government operations and that our requests for information are not primarily in our commercial interest.     

We find your OCC's FOIA and other practices outrageous and demand expeditious ruling on this appeal and release of the already long delayed documents.    Matthew Lee, Esq., Executive Director Inner City Press / Fair Finance Watch." Watch this site.

May 6, 2019

On Money Laundering After Federal Reserve Withholds 133 Pages On BB&T Inner City Press Comments

By Matthew R. Lee, FOIA docs, BB&T denial

NEW YORK CITY, May 4 – When BB&T announced a $66 billion proposal to take over Suntrust Bank, which would close a still undisclosed number of branches and extend BB&T disparate lending patterns, many linked it to deregulatory moves in Washington. Then two days after Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard was asked by Inner City Press about the Fed's lax review of previous mergers, including WSFS on which the Fed still hasn't ruled on the bank's withholding of information after rubber stamping the deal, the Fed announced public hearings. But the fix it seems it still in. On April 18, conveniently, the Fed "announce[d] termination of enforcement action with BB&T Corporation" for money laundering. So there's a public comment period on the merger, but none on the Fed's dubious move while the application is pending. Meanwhile as Inner City Press has exclusively reported, BB&T has been named in connection with sleazy debt collections in a case in the SDNY - more on all this to come. On April 29, Inner City Press submitted a FOIA request about the dubious termination of enforcement action, and a comment to the Fed and FDIC, below.

  On the afternoon of May 2, before seeking to close the comment period on BB&T - Suntrust on May 3, the Federal Reserve wrote to Inner City Press that only ONE PAGE about its BB&T money laundering enforcement termination would be provided, and 133 pages withheld in full, no even subject to the type of partial redaction that is required under FOIA. FRB 99% denial letter here.

  The one page is not even from the Federal Reserve: it is from the North Carolina regulator. And there is a request to the FDIC about three pages. Just after the Federal Reserve's FOIA "response," the FDIC wrote to Inner City Press to say its comment period would closed on May 3, and has not responded how it and the Fed's May 3 public meeting, replete with singing for supper, can be viewed. On May 3 before 5 pm Inner City Press raised the bogus FOIA response to the Fed governors and FDIC: "Dear Chair Powell, Secretary Misback and others in the FRS:      This is a timely second comment opposing and requesting an extension of the FRB's public comment period on the Application by BB&T Corporation to merge with SunTrust Banks, Inc. and indirectly acquire SunTrust Bank Holding Company, Orlando, FL, and SunTrust Bank.       As Fair Finance Watch was reviewing the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) and other data of the banks with an eye toward commenting or not commenting by the current May 3 expiration of comment period on this proposed mega-merger, it and Inner City Press were shocked to see the Federal Reserve Board's cynical April 18 termination of the enforcement action against BB&T for money laundering.       Money laundering is, along with redlining, one of the most serious crimes a bank can engage in. For example currently in the SDNY there are numerous AML prosecutions, resulting for example in the conviction of CEFC's Ho for UN-related bribery. Even the Fed had historically acknowledged the primacy of full AML compliance over the rush toward corporate combination, for example in connection with M&T Bank.       Yet here, for the convenience of and in collusion with a proposed mega merger, the Fed without transparency has terminated the BB&T AML enforcement action during the public comment period on the merger, without taking any public comment on it.     Inner City Press has submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the Federal Reserve for records related to this troubling de-regulatory action. It requested expedited treatment and formally requests that the comment period be kept open until the FRB has made these records available.        Cynically, the Fed responded just before deadline with one page, withholding 133 pages in full in contravention of FOIA. Inner City Press has timely appealed:  an mmediate FOIA appeal of FRB absurd denial by providing only one page and withhold 133 pages in full - in response to Inner City Press' FOIA request regarding the FRB's decision to terminate the money laundering enforcement action against BB&T during the pendency of its application to acquire Suntrust.      As you must know, agencies are request to provided all reasonably segregable information and are not allow mass withhold, as here, over 99% of responsive pages, in full.      Troublingly, just as the Fed acquiesced to BB&T and lifted the enforcement action to facilitate this merger, now it provide a shameful FOIA (non response), to claim it is legitimate to close its comment period on this, the largest merger proposal since 2008.        This is a demand that on this record the comment period must be extended. Inner City Press also timely notes that it asked the FDIC how to view today's public meeting and was told it is only live streamed INSIDE the Federal Reserve Bank. This should be explained - it is far from the best practice, of smaller regulators, on smaller proposed mergers.

April 29, 2019

In SDNY Predatory Lending Defendants Get Free Lawyers Sullivan and Cromwell $2000 a Week

By Matthew Russell Lee, Exclusive, Periscope

SDNY COURTHOUSE, April 23 – Two defendants arrested at Newark International Airport for an advance fee scheme, essentially predatory lending, were presented late on April 23 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York arraignments courtroom, presided over by this week by retiring Magistrate Judge Henry Pitman. One of them, Omar Young of 107 West Fourth Street, Granton, Wisconsin, was given a free / publicly funded lawyer despite having $215,000 in a business checking account. The other, a Mister Perlman of northern Georgia, has $161,000 in the bank but his counsel, from the white shoe firm of Sullivan & Cromwell, argued that he should be given a free lawyer - and that the whole proceeding should be sealed. But it was held in open court, and Inner City Press was there, albeit the only media present. Why is a corporate law firm like Sullivan & Cromwell representing a predatory lender -- alleged, of course -- and arguing they should be paid, and it should be sealed? Inner City Press aims to have more on this case. For now we note that in the open court proceeding it was said that no hotel can be found in or around New York City for less than $250 to $300 a night, and each defendant was allowed while getting publicly funded counsel to spend $2000 a week while in New York. That's $102,000 a week, deemed reasonable by the court and Sullivan & Cromwell, in a District where many families don't make that in a decade. Inner City Press will have more on this.

April 22, 2019

As Otting Targets CRA He Changed FOIA Fee Policy To Hinder Coverage Reversed on Appeal Still No Docs

By Matthew R. Lee, Video, story, FOIA docs

NEW YORK CITY, April 19 – The US Treasury Department is the next stage of a process to try to weaken and take the community out of the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act. Docket file here. The protagonist, akin to Scott Pruitt when he was at the US Environmental Protection Agency or Ryan Zinke at Interior, is the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency's (OCC's) Joseph Otting. This Spring Otting, in order to hinder Press coverage of how many banks he meets with by changing the OCC's long standing FOIA fee waiver policy, is saying he will make it harder to get CRA information too. This is the "new" OCC - see its letter on new policies, below.  After Inner City Press appealed, twice, this has been reversed as to Otting's scheduled - but still as of the end of the week on Friday, April 19 not a single one of the long ago requested documents has been received. For the record, "Matthew Lee, Esq. Executive Director, Inner City Press/ Fair Finance Watch P.O. Box 20047 New York, NY 10017  Subject: Freedom of Information Act Appeal No. 2019-00004  Dear Mr. Lee:  I am writing in response to your correspondence of February 11, 2019, and March 8, 2019. In your correspondence, you sought to appeal the OCC's denial of your request for a fee waiver in connection with your request or information pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. 552, as amended (FOIA)(numbered 2019-00104).  The FOIA does not provide an explicit right to appeal the denial of a fee waiver, The OCC's FOIA regulations also do not provide such a right. See 12 C.F.R. 4.15(d)(1). Moreover, I am not aware of any legal precedent holding that a denial of a fee waiver is an appealable "adverse determination” pursuant to the FOLA or otherwise requiring any federal agency to consider an appeal of a fee waiver denial.  Nonetheless, the OCC, in its discretion, has considered your appeal. While you did not meet the legal standard in section 552(a)(4)(A)(iii) of the FOIA to justify the granting of a fee waiver in your initial FOIA request or in your February 11 correspondence, your correspondence of March 8 is more robust and sets forth with reasonable specificity the grounds to justify the OCC's granting of the fee waiver. Therefore, your request for a fee waiver with respect to FOLA request 2019-00104 is granted. The OCC's Disclosure Services office will remove the matter from "Hold" status and proceed to process the request.  Sincerely,  Rao  Bao Nguyen Principal Deputy Chief Counsel Office of the Comptroller of the Currency." Otting's OCC still says it will not consider public comments on "Business Combination" applications on which public comments have always in the past been considered, for example this one on a Long Island bank trying to take over Chinatown FSB, here. Now they write again, to pretend that it is not a new policy, and that the US Administrative Procedure Act does not apply to changes of agency policy, particularly to protect and censor for a new head of agency.

April 15, 2019

As Otting Targets CRA He Refused Inner City Press Chinatown Comment Now Rep Katie Porter Letter

By Matthew R. Lee, Video, story, FOIA docs

NEW YORK CITY, April 10 – The US Treasury Department is the next stage of a process to try to weaken and take the community out of the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act. Docket file here. The protagonist, akin to Scott Pruitt when he was at the US Environmental Protection Agency or Ryan Zinke at Interior, is the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency's (OCC's) Joseph Otting. He has gone beyond overall attempts to underling the CRA to refusing public comment on the type of business combination applications on which comment has in the past been accepted and considered. Photo here. In fact, his OCC's refusal comes on application for which a public comment period was specifically listed on the agency's website.

So Inner City Press / Fair Finance Watch wrote to the OCC, including Stephen Lybarger, as follows:  "Thanks for emailing this letter but I must say, Inner City Press / Fair Finance Watch it deeply concerned by, and hereby opposes it.  Heretofore our comment on just such Business Combination proposals HAVE been considered by the OCC. If under Comptroller Otting the OCC is changing its longtime practice it needs to do a notice and comment process under the APA. This is lawless.  In this case, the proposal we commented on specifically provides for a comment period: Please retract your letter and consider appropriately our comment, or explain in writing why.  Please confirm receipt of these requests."

  The OCC has not responded or reversed itself to consider the comments, even as Inner City Press pursues Chinatown FSB documents at agencies which don't problematize such requests for bogus FOIA fee waiver issues. Now Rep. Katie Porter has written to Otting, including "If the OCC fails to consider community group comments during a merger-approval process, that would directly contradict the law. 12 CFR 8 5.33 also states: “When the OCC evaluates an application for a business combination under the Community Reinvestment Act, the OCC also considers the performance of the applicant and the other depository institutions involved in the business combination in helping to meet the credit needs of the relevant communities, including low- and moderate-income neighborhoods, consistent with safe and sound banking practices." 2. How are your proposed changes to community group comment consideration during the  merger-approval process consistent with 12 CFR § 5.33?  ... See,David Dayen, "The Fake Public Comments Supporting A Bank Merger Are Coming From Inside the House," The Intercept (September 2018), here. 3. Do you intend to recuse yourself from the new rule-making, given the irregularities  confirmed in One West's CRA review process while you were CEO? If not, how will you engage in this rule-making without prejudice extending from your experience with the One West/CIT merger? Community groups submit their comments during the merger-approval process with the specific i Please respond to these inquiries in writing by April 15th." Watch this site.

April 8, 2019

After Fair Finance Watch Protest to Ameris Bank Takeover Of Fidelity Fed Has Questions

By Matthew R. Lee, Patreon

NEW YORK, April 4 – The bank with the worst record in the United States for gouging consumers with overdraft fees, Ameris, has applied to the Federal Reserve to buy Fidelity Southern Corporation and its Fidelity Bank, both in Atlanta. On March 2, Fair Finance Watch filed formal opposition with the Federal Reserve Board, whose chairman Jerome Powell has insisted that the Fed is not just a rubber stamper of all mergers, citing the gouging, Ameris' disparate mortgage lending record in Atlanta, Georgia and Florida, and the Community Reinvestment Act. See below. Now the Fed has asked Ameris questions, including: "5)    The Community Reinvestment Act performance evaluation for Ameris Bank as of October 2016 stated that Ameris Bank “demonstrated poor responsiveness in meeting the community development investment needs in the Atlanta MSA.”  Please discuss any subsequent efforts to improve this performance, and please discuss any community development investment plans for the combined bank." Why should a bank already demonstrably poor in Atlanta be allowed to buy another bank there? Without even an evidentiary hearing? The Fed's question letter also zeroes in on some of the inconsistencies that have characterized Ameris' recent interactions with regulator, for example asking: "1)    The Application indicates that immediately prior to the effective time of the merger of FSC with and into Applicant (“Merger”), FSC’s outstanding common stock will be converted into the right to receive 0.80 shares of Applicant’s common stock.  However, for question 10c of the Application, which requests a current and pro forma shareholder list if the proposed transaction will result in a change in ownership, Applicant answered “not applicable.”    a.    Please address this discrepancy.    b.    If yes, provide a current and, if different, pro forma list of Applicant’s shareholders that will hold a 5 percent or more ownership interest, identifying the percentage of voting interests and total equity of Applicant held by each shareholder or group of shareholders.   2)    The Application indicates the Merger will be funded through the issuance of approximately 22 million shares of Applicant’s common stock.  Please revise the response to question 10d of the Application to address this statement.    3)    The Application indicates Fidelity Bank has branches in states other than Applicant’s home state of Georgia.  Accordingly, please revise the response to question 21 of the Application." This is not the first time Ameris' applications to the Fed have contained falsehoods.  As Inner City Press previously exclusively reported it turned out, from Ameris' response, that its application was false when it said it would continue the CRA policies of Atlantic - see full response on Patreon, here, question 3. Inner City Press requested records under the Freedom of Information Act - a process on which the Fed is increasingly slow, perhaps taking its lead from Comptroller Joe Otting who is now trying to hinder even getting copies of merger applications from the OCC. We'll have more on this.

April 1, 2019

Wells Fargo Now Goes On Without Tim Sloan After Dropping CRA 2 Levels by OCC Whose Otting Apologized

By Matthew R. Lee

NEW YORK, March 28 – Seven months after Wells Fargo Bank's Community Reinvestment Act rating was dropped two levels to "Needs to Improve," barring it from acquisitions, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency of Joseph Otting quietly said, in a footnote to a Bulletin issued on 12 October 2017, that "The OCC’s policy is not to lower a bank’s CRA composite or component rating by more than one rating level." See here, footnote 8. So when did this become the OCC's policy, after it dropped Wells by two levels? Call it a stealth sop to Wells Fargo - and seemingly a violation of the Administrative Procedures Act, one in what has become a series by Otting at the OCC. Now on 28 March 2018, Tim Sloan is abuptly out at Wells Fargo, leaving general counsel Allen Parker as interim CEO pending a search. Could Otting's obsequiousness be a try-out? Would communities be worse off with him as head of a bank, again, or as regulators of most of the largest banks? We'll have more on this. In July it emerged that over 800,000 people who took car loans from Wells were charged for needless auto insurance, pushing 274,000 Wells Fargo customers into delinquency and triggering nearly 25,000 wrongful vehicle repossessions. So much for the industry having cleaned itself up after the predatory lending meltdown. New York City announced it will not enter any new relationships with the bank, also suspending Wells Fargo's role as a senior book-running manager for NYC General Obligation and Transactional Finance Authority bond sales. A statement by Mayor Bill de Blasio and Controller Scott Stringer noted that "Currently, Wells Fargo holds contracts with the City to provide banking services, including to operate 'Lock Box' services that hold taxes and fees collected by the City. There is approximately $227 million of City dollars held in Wells Fargo accounts." Bu will they get involved in opposing Sterling National Bank, which Inner City Press and Fair Finance Watch have exposed as having "unreliable" CRA data, notwithstanding the OCC's scam "Satisfactory" rating on May 30? Click here. We'll have more on this.

March 25, 2019

Federal Reserve Board Is Already Rubber Stamping Mergers Now Anti CRA Stephen Moore Nominated

By Matthew R. Lee, Video, story, FOIA docs

SOUTH BRONX, March 23 – Federal Reserve Board chairman Jay Powell told Congress he will run transparent reviews of mergers like BB&T - Suntrust, and announced two public hearings as if to prove it. But on February 27 while still not acting on Inner City Press' Freedom of Information Act request for withheld information, his Fed Board rubber stamped the application by WSFS to buy Beneficial and close at least 25 branches. Now the Fed portends to become even more of a rubber stamp, even more dismissive of the Community Reinvestment Act, now that Stephen Moore has been nominated. Beyond his article trashing the CRA, here, Moore has been outed for using false data such that even the Kansas City Star said they won't publish him any more. But he'll be in FRB merger approval orders? The Fed's WSFS order said, "A commenter objected to the proposal alleging, based on data reported under the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (“HMDA”)25 for 2017, that WSFS Bank denied home purchase mortgage loans to African American and Latino applicants at significantly higher rates than to white applicants in the Wilmington, DelawareMaryland-New Jersey Metropolitan Division (“MD”) and the Salisbury, MarylandDelaware Metropolitan Statistical Area (“MSA”). The commenter also raised concerns regarding branch closures anticipated in connection with the proposed mergers." The comment, which the Fed seems not to want to name in order to try to deny legal standing, is Fair Finance Watch / Inner City Press.

March 18, 2019

As BB&T Tries Taking Over Suntrust Fed Sets Public Hearings After Brainard Quizzed on FOIA By Inner City Press

By Matthew R. Lee, FOIA docs

NEW YORK CITY, March 14 – When BB&T announced a $66 billion proposal to take over Suntrust Bank, which would close a still undisclosed number of branches and extend BB&T disparate lending patterns, many linked it to deregulatory moves in Washington. Now two days after Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard was asked by Inner City Press about the Fed's lax review of previous mergers, including WSFS on which the Fed still hasn't ruled on the bank's withholding of information after rubber stamping the deal, the Fed has announced this: "The Federal Reserve Board and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) on Thursday announced that they will jointly hold two public meetings on the proposed merger of BB&T Corporation, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, with SunTrust Banks, Inc., Atlanta, Georgia. As part of the proposal, BB&T would merge SunTrust Bank with and into its subsidiary state non-member bank, Branch Banking and Trust Company, Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  The purpose of the meetings is to collect information relating to the convenience and needs of the communities to be served, including a review of the insured depository institutions' performance under the Community Reinvestment Act. The agencies also will consider and collect information on other factors relevant to making a decision on the application, including the effects of the proposal on the stability of the U.S. banking or financial system, the financial and managerial resources and future prospects of the companies, and competition in the relevant markets.  The first public meeting will be held:  Thursday, April 25 at 8:30 a.m., EDT Charlotte Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond 530 East Trade Street, Charlotte, North Carolina The second public meeting will be held:  Friday, May 3, at 8:30 a.m., EDT Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta 1000 Peachtree Street N.E., Atlanta, Georgia. All persons wishing to testify at the public meeting in Charlotte should submit a written request no later than 5:00 p.m. EDT on Monday, April 15, 2019. A request to testify at the Charlotte public meeting may be sent by mail to: Matthew Martin, Vice President, Research Department, Microeconomics and Research Communications, Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, 530 East Trade Street, Charlotte, North Carolina, 28202; by online form at: the Charlotte Public Meeting Request Form; by e-mail to: publicmeeting.charlotte@rich.frb.org; or by facsimile: 704-358-2300.  All persons wishing to testify at the public meeting in Atlanta should submit a written request no later than 5:00 p.m. EDT on Tuesday, April 23, 2019. A request to testify at the Atlanta public meeting may be sent by mail to: Karen Leone de Nie, Vice President Community and Economic Development, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, 1000 Peachtree Street N.E., Atlanta, Georgia, 30309; by online form at: Atlanta Public Meeting Request Form; by e-mail to: atlfedcomdev@atl.frb.org." Game on. The deregulatory moves  include an assault on the Community Reinvestment Act, being led by Comptroller of the Currency Joseph Otting, who while at OneWest Bank led a false commenting process to push through a merger with CIT Group. (Otting is trying to change the OCC's practices on FOIA fee waivers and is even refusing to consider comments on some Business Combinations. But this BB&T proposal will go to the Fed whose Jerome Powell has vowed, credibly or not, to conduct a full review. And so consider this:  BB&T has been ordered to return $5.2 million to investors, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission, over charges it it acquired misled clients about the cost of advisory services.  The SEC said the firm that BB&T acquired with Susquehanna Bancshares, known then as Valley Forge Asset Management, misled about 1,200 clients into believing they were receiving full service brokerage services at a discount. We'll have more on this.

 Fair Finance Watch, which has been tracking BB&T as well as Otting's and the Federal Reserve's anti-CRA moves, finds that for example in the Atlanta Metropolitan Statistical Area in 2017 BB&T denied the home purchase mortgage applications of African Americans 2.2 times more frequently than whites, while making only 50 such loans to African Americans, and 23 to Latinos, compared to 458 to whites, all more disparate that other lenders in the market.

March 11, 2019

As Otting Targets CRA and Changes FOIA Policy For Mergers Inner City Press Legal Response

By Matthew R. Lee, Video, story, FOIA docs

NEW YORK CITY, March 8 – The US Treasury Department is the next stage of a process to try to weaken and take the community out of the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act. Docket file here. The protagonist, akin to Scott Pruitt when he was at the US Environmental Protection Agency or Ryan Zinke at Interior, is the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency's (OCC's) Joseph Otting. Now Otting, in order to hinder Press coverage of how many banks he meets with by changing the OCC's long standing FOIA fee waiver policy, is saying he will make it harder to get CRA information too. This is the "new" OCC - see its letter on new policies, below.  And his OCC has said it will not consider public comments on "Business Combination" applications on which public comments have always in the past been considered, for example this one on a Long Island bank trying to take over Chinatown FSB, here. Now they write again, to pretend that it is not a new policy, and that the US Administrative Procedure Act does not apply to changes of agency policy, particularly to protect and censor for a new head of agency. These people are lawless. Inner City Press has again timely replied, this time also to the OCC's Stephen Lybarger and Barry Wides: "Good afternoon. Having not received a single page or day of the Comptroller's calendar which Inner City Press requested in January, in an abundance of caution and to ensure prompt receipt, we submit the below by your deadline, please confirm receipt:  Dear Ms. Merritt:     Inner City Press traditionally has received fee waivers from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency under 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(A)(iii) and 12 C.F.R. § 4.17. Waivers were granted on the basis of similar or identical language contained in the instant Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, which is now the subject of OCC’s waiver rejection. I understand from your correspondence that you are not questioning Inner City Press’s eligibility for a waiver in this instance; rather, it appears you are requiring a more thorough enunciation of our eligibility than under prior requests. Inner City Press maintains its objection to OCC’s original determination, which has caused undue delay and prejudice to Inner City Press based on a previously unstated requirement to provide unprecedented detail in our waiver request. Nevertheless, below we provide additional detail to support our eligibility for a waiver.     Inner City Press Is Eligible for a Fee Waiver     In accordance with 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(A)(iii) and 12 C.F.R. § 4.17, Inner City Press is eligible for, and requests, a waiver of fees associated with processing its request for records. The subject of this request—calendars of an OCC senior official—concerns the operations of the federal government, and the disclosures will likely contribute to a better understanding of relevant government procedures by the general public in a significant way. Moreover, the request is primarily and fundamentally for non-commercial purposes.     Inner City Press requests a waiver of fees because disclosure of the requested information is “in the public interest because the disclosure . . . [i]s likely to contribute significantly to public understanding” of government operations or activities.[1] Specifically, the disclosure of the information sought under this request will document and reveal the activities of the federal government, including how high-ranking agency personnel are using their official time, with whom they are meeting to discuss official agency business, and whether and to what extent external interests are influencing administration policy decisions. The manner in which a senior official spends his time reveals agency priorities, enables the public to evaluate whether the official is abiding by ethical constraints on meeting with prior employers or clients, and reveals to degree of industry influence of political donor access to the agency. The value of such information speaks for itself. In addition, its value has been widely recognized. For example, in 2017, the New York Times identified an article based on then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s calendars as one of its most important stories of the year. See 2017: Our Reporters Reflect on Covering Washington and Politics, N.Y. Times, Dec. 29, 2017, available at https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/29/us/politics/covering-washington-politics.html (citing E.P.A. Chief’s Calendar: A Stream of Industry Meetings and Trips Home, Eric Lipton, N.Y. Times, Oct. 3, 2017).     As discussed below, Inner City Press has both the ability and the intention to effectively convey the information it receives to the public.     Inner City Press does not have a commercial interest in the requested information. This request is primarily and fundamentally for non-commercial purposes. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Inner City Press does not have a commercial purpose and the release of the information requested is not in its financial interest. Inner City Press’s mission is to engage in cutting-edge investigative reporting focused, fair lending, development, and government accountability advocacy. Core to its mission is to educate the public about government activities and to ensure the accountability of government officials. Inner City Press uses the information gathered, and its analysis of it, to educate the public through reports, press releases, or other media. It also makes materials it gathers available on its public website and promotes their availability on social media platforms. Inner City Press has demonstrated its commitment to the public disclosure of documents and creation of editorial content. For example, Inner City Press’s website contains dozens of articles describing the operations of the federal government from a unique perspective, including about the OCC:     ·        In SDNY FreddieMac Via FHFA of Otting Says Its Negligent Late Objection Is Fine As Otting Lawless: http://www.innercitypress.com/sdny1fhfahera030719.html.  https://theintercept.com/2018/09/29/joseph-otting-occ-onewest-bank-merger-cit/     Inner City Press’s website contains many more examples demonstrating its ability and intention to inform the public about government activities, including specifically related to how the subject of the instant FOIA request spent his time at OCC.     Accordingly, Inner City Press qualifies for a fee waiver.     Conclusion     Without withdrawing Inner City Press’s previously articulated objection to our original waiver denial, we submit the above information to satisfy the OCC’s newly-stringent standard for satisfying the waiver provisions of your regulations and the FOIA statute. There can be no doubt that Inner City Press qualifies for a waiver based on the foregoing. Moreover, Inner City Press’s long track record of fee waivers is further evidence of our current eligibility. In particular, we have demonstrated repeatedly our intent and ability to inform the public about government operations and that our requests for information are not primarily in our commercial interest." So far, only this, from the OCC's Kristin Merritt: "Mr. Lee.  I have received. Thank you." Watch this site. Here was their letter, dated March 5: "Dear Mr. Lee :   I sent you the following information in an email on 2/19/2019, and have not received a response.  Please respond as soon as possible, and by Friday, 3/8/2019 at the latest.   Good afternoon Mr. Lee.    I am writing to you regarding your correspondence of February 11, 2019, as it relates to your January 17, 2019 FOIA request number 2019-00104.  Although you request a fee waiver in connection with your FOIA request, you do not provide a sufficient justification for the granting of the waiver in either your January 17 or your February 11 correspondence.   I understand that in the past, the OCC has granted you fee waivers based on the same or similar language used in your most recent request, and that you may not have received an adequate explanation as to why your recent request was not being handled in a similar manner as past requests.  Please be aware that going forward, with respect to your case number 2019-00104 and all other requests made by any requester for any information, the OCC will only grant fee waivers on a case-by case basis when a requester has affirmatively demonstrated entitlement to a fee waiver in accordance with the requirements of the FOIA at 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(4)(A)(iii).  This approach is in accordance with the FOIA statute and DOJ guidance.  In applicable guidance, DOJ has stated:  “The Department of Justice stands committed to encouraging agencies to waive fees under the FOIA whenever the statutory fee waiver standard is met. By the same token, of course, agencies also are expected to respect the balance drawn in the statute, safeguarding federal funds by granting waivers or reductions only where it is determined that the statutory standard is satisfied.”  see FOIA Update, Vol. VIII, No. 1 (“OIP Guidance: New Fee Waiver Policy Guidance”) (emphasis added).  Moreover, the OCC’s approach is consistent with case law, which provides that each fee waiver request is considered on a case-by-case basis because each request involves varied information.  See Media Access Project v. FCC, 883 F.2d 1063 (D.C. Cir 1989).  Additionally, the OCC is not bound to grant a fee waiver to a requester in a particular case just because it has granted the requester waivers in the past.  See e.g., Judicial Watch Inc., v. DOJ, No. 99-2315, 2000 WL 33724693 at *5  (D.D.C. Aug. 17, 2000); Judicial Watch, Inc., v. DOJ, No. 97-2089, Slip op. at 14 (D.D.C. July 14, 1998).     The burden for establishing that a fee waiver is justified is on the requester.  See Friends of the Coast Fork v. U.S. Dep’t of the Interior, 110 F.3d 53, 55 (9th Cir. 1997).  Thus, in order for the OCC to determine whether your request meets the requirements for a fee waiver, you must demonstrate that the OCC’s disclosure in response to your request meets the standard set forth in Section 552(a)(4)(A)(iii).  You may wish to consult DOJ’s guidance at https://www.justice.gov/oip/blog/foia-update-new-fee-waiver-policy-guidance  in formulating your justification.  Until these issues are resolved with respect to your fee waiver, the clock is stopped on your FOIA request.       Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.   Best,                    Kristin Merritt  Special Counsel Administrative & Internal Law  Office of the Comptroller of the Currency  400 7th St., S.W.  Washington, D.C.  20219" Under Otting, who is throwing up roadblocks to the release of his calendar under the Freedom of Information Act (see below), "the OCC is instructing examiners to investigate some of the claims separately, rather than addressing them within the merger-approval process.  “We require a certain level of detail and specificity in comments,” Comptroller of the Currency Joseph Otting said in a written statement. 'The changes ensure that concerns are validated by exam staff who are best positioned to review [their] merits.'"

This is a backdoor safe harbor. Since 98% of banks are rated Satisfactory or Outstanding (including those which later are found guilty of discrimination and redlining), to discount comments that are not "validated" by these bogus and inflated rating is regulatory malpractice. Perhaps this is why Otting is hiding his calendar

March 4, 2019

As Otting Targets Community Reinvestment Act He Refuses To Consider Public Comment on Chinatown Acquisition

By Matthew R. Lee, Video, story, FOIA docs

NEW YORK CITY, March 2 – The US Treasury Department is the next stage of a process to try to weaken and take the community out of the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act. Docket file here. The protagonist, akin to Scott Pruitt when he was at the US Environmental Protection Agency or Ryan Zinke at Interior, is the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency's (OCC's) Joseph Otting. He has gone beyond overall attempts to underling the CRA to refusing public comment on the type of business combination applications on which comment has in the past been accepted and considered. Photo here. His OCC in a February 26, 2019 letter to Inner City Press / Fair Finance Watch concerning its timely comment opposing the application to the OCC by Long Island-based Hanover Community Bank to acquire Chinatown Federal Savings Bank, stated that "the business combination application filed with the OCC in connection with Hanover's acquisition, referenced above, is not subject to public comment." Photo of letter here. This is a direct attack on the CRA and on public participation more generally. Here's from the Fair Finance Watch comment Otting is refusing to consider: "February 18, 2019 Via e-mail
Office of the Comptroller of the Currency Northeastern District Office Acting Director for District Licensing, Marva V. Cummings 340 Madison Avenue, Fifth Floor New York, NY 10173-0002 
Re: Timely First Comment on OCC 2019-NE-Combination-307316, re Applications by Hanover to acquire Chinatown FSB
Dear Ms. Cummings and others in the OCC:  This is a timely first comment opposing and requesting an extension of the OCC's public comment period on the Applications by Hanover to acquire Chinatown FSB.       The applicant Hanover in the New York City MSA in 2017 made 269 home purchase loans to Asians -- and NONE to African Americans. Note that Hanover's CRA assessment area includes The Bronx, and Brooklyn.    Note that when Hanover opened a deposit taking branch in NYC, in Forest Hills, its press release said nothing about a focus on Chinese Americans or Asians or any limitations or restrictions on lending, here.  Hanover does not even appear to offer any FHA, FSA/RHS, and VA home-purchase loans. This is not acceptable.... The comment period should be extended; evidentiary hearings should be held; and on the current record, the application should not be approved." Then Otting says, we don't care, we won't listen. 
Otting, in order to hinder Press coverage of how many banks he meets with by changing the OCC's long standing FOIA fee waiver policy, is saying he will make it harder to get CRA information too. This is the "new" OCC - see its letter on new policies, below.  Under Otting, who is throwing up roadblocks to the release of his calendar under the Freedom of Information Act (see below), "the OCC is instructing examiners to investigate some of the claims separately, rather than addressing them within the merger-approval process.  “We require a certain level of detail and specificity in comments,” Comptroller of the Currency Joseph Otting said in a written statement. 'The changes ensure that concerns are validated by exam staff who are best positioned to review [their] merits.'"

This is a backdoor safe harbor. Since 98% of banks are rated Satisfactory or Outstanding (including those which later are found guilty of discrimination and redlining), to discount comments that are not "validated" by these bogus and inflated rating is regulatory malpractice. Perhaps this is why Otting is hiding his calendar...

February 25, 2019

Amid Targeting of Community Reinvestment Act Fed Asks WSFS About Branch Closings

By Matthew R. Lee, Video, story, FOIA docs

SOUTH BRONX, February 20 – The US Treasury Department is the next stage of a process to try to weaken and take the community out of the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act. Docket file here. The protagonist, akin to Scott Pruitt when he was at the US Environmental Protection Agency or Ryan Zinke at Interior, is Comptroller of the Current Joseph Otting. On September 12 Fair Finance Watch (and on FOIA, Inner City Press) commented to the OCC, here. At the November 19 deadline, not yet posted was Inner City Press' November 17 fourth comment, just as Otting's OCC absurdly waited 13 days to try to rule it does not have to consider Fair Finance Watch's comments on WSFS Bank's application to acquire Beneficial. Now, after the OCC gleefully closed its comment period on that, WSFS on December 13 announced it will close 25 branches. One would think Otting would have to re-open the comment period. But that's not how Otting rolls. And the Fed, on FOIA and now public notice, is absurd. It has allowed WSFS to withhold its answer on CRA, in a letter it sent late to Inner City Press. Now just past midnight on February 20 the Fed has asked WSFS a "non-confidential" question, below, and presumably some confidential question(s) which Inner City Press / Fair Finance Watch has no chance to obtain under FOIA before Board action. Here's what FFW has just received: "From: Derald Seid To: mnonaka; Benjenk, Randy Cc: Kelley O"Mara; Arthur White; Ken Williams Subject: WSFS Application Date: Wednesday, February 20, 2019 12:22:00 AM NONCONFIDENTIAL // EXTERNAL Messrs. Nonaka and Benjenk: This request refers to the application by WSFS Financial Corporation (“WSFS”), Wilmington, Delaware, to acquire Beneficial Bancorp, Inc. (“Beneficial”), and thereby indirectly acquire Beneficial Bank (“Beneficial Bank”), both of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, pursuant to section 10(e) of the Home Owners’ Loan Act following the conversion of Beneficial from a bank holding company to a savings and loan holding company. Following the proposed acquisition, WSFS plans to merge Beneficial Bank into its subsidiary, Wilmington Savings Fund Society, FSB (“WSFS Bank”), Wilmington, Delaware. Based on our review of the current record, the following information is requested: · WSFS has represented that it plans to close a total of 25 WSFS Bank and Beneficial Bank branches in connection with the proposed transaction, primarily because of the proximity of those branches to other branches of the proposed combined bank. Please confirm that WSFS will comply with the requirements of section 42 of the Federal Deposit Insurance Act (12 U.S.C. § 1831r-1) and interagency guidance applicable to branch closures (See Joint Policy Statement on Branch Closings by Insured Depository Institutions, https://www.federalreserve.gov/boarddocs/press/BoardActs/1999/19990707/r-1036.pdf). In accordance with the Federal Reserve’s ex parte procedures, provide a copy of the public portion of your response (together with any attachments) directly to the commenter, Mr. Matthew Lee of Fair Finance Watch. Any information for which you desire confidential treatment must be so labeled and separately bound, and accompanied by your request for confidential treatment pursuant to section 261.15 of the Board’s Rules Regarding Availability of Information (12 CFR 261.15). Best regards, Derald Derald L. Seid | Legal Division | Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System."


February 18, 2019

As Otting Targets Community Reinvestment Act His OCC Starts Safe Harbor Relying On Bogus Ratings

By Matthew R. Lee, Video, story, FOIA docs

NEW YORK CITY, February 13 – The US Treasury Department is the next stage of a process to try to weaken and take the community out of the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act. Docket file here. The protagonist, akin to Scott Pruitt when he was at the US Environmental Protection Agency or Ryan Zinke at Interior, is the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency's (OCC's) Joseph Otting. Now under Otting, who is throwing up roadblocks to the release of his calendar under the Freedom of Information Act (see below), "the OCC is instructing examiners to investigate some of the claims separately, rather than addressing them within the merger-approval process.  “We require a certain level of detail and specificity in comments,” Comptroller of the Currency Joseph Otting said in a written statement. 'The changes ensure that concerns are validated by exam staff who are best positioned to review [their] merits.'"

This is a backdoor safe harbor. Since 98% of banks are rated Satisfactory or Outstanding (including those which later are found guilty of discrimination and redlining), to discount comments that are not "validated" by these bogus and inflated rating is regulatory malpractice. Perhaps this is why Otting is hiding his calendar; perhaps the WSJ's Lalita Clozel will dig further. As to the Federal Reserve, Inner City Press has been informed of a memo by a major law firm which has hired and used former Fed Legal Division staff bragging about the fast Fed approvals it is receiving. We'll have more on this - including on BB&T / Suntrust, see here.

February 11, 2019

As Otting Targets Community Reinvestment Act Denies FOIA Fee Waiver For Inner City Press Request For His Calendar For 1st Time

By Matthew R. Lee, Video, story, FOIA docs

NEW YORK CITY, February 9 – The US Treasury Department is the next stage of a process to try to weaken and take the community out of the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act. Docket file here. The protagonist, akin to Scott Pruitt when he was at the US Environmental Protection Agency or Ryan Zinke at Interior, is the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency's (OCC's) Joseph Otting. On September 12 Fair Finance Watch (and on FOIA, Inner City Press) commented to the OCC, here. On January 16 Inner City Press asked the OCC on the expedited basis for records to disclose Otting's meetings with the banking industry and othersBut in a letter dated January 31, the OCC for the first time in years denied Inner City Press' fee waiver request on this one request, despite the request using the same language as requests the OCC has granted for Inner City Press repeatedly. The only difference is the subject of the FOIA request: Otting. This is an abuse of power. Inner City Press has appealed: "Inner City Press is appealing Mr Frank Vance's letter dated January 31, 2019 which denies, for the first time in years, Inner City Press' request for a fee waiver - because the request concerns Comtroller Otting and his schedule. Inner City Press is a media that covers the OCC... it seeks this information to educate the public about the operations of the OCC. The language of the fee waiver request was the same as the OCC has requested granted - now suddenly a new standard is applied, due to the subject matter of the request. This is unacceptable. The denial letter doesn't even inform of the right to appeal, and the request number is not listed in our account - thereby blocking submission of the appeal. We are submitting under the number of another of our 2019 requests on which fee waiver WAS granted, on the same language. We ask for expedited ruling on this appeal, and an explanation."

February 4, 2019


US Settlement Without Fine For Predatory Lending From Malta Needs SDNY Approval Comparative Crime

By Matthew Russell Lee

NEW YORK CITY, February 1 – A dubious settlement of predatory lending claims by the US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is coming for approval to the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, CFBP announced on Friday afternoon.

The facts of the case are extreme: a lender pretending to be based off-shore in Malta charging interest rates of 700%. But CFPB is settling out the case with no penalties, no restitution, nothing - and asking the SDNY to sign off on it. Will it?   The case is No. 15cv5211 (CM)(RWL) of which the CFPB says "The proposed settlement covers NDG Financial Corp., E-Care Contact Centers, Ltd., Blizzard Interactive Corp., New World Consolidated Lending Corp., New World Lenders Corp., Payroll Loans First Lenders Corp., New World RRSP Lenders Corp., Northway Financial Corp., Ltd., and Northway Broker, Ltd and corporate officials Kimberly DeThomas, Jeremy Sabourin, and William Wrixon. The defendants were not fined."

  These days Inner City Press is covering a range of cases in the SDNY. Not only Michael Cohen, and the back to back UN bribery cases of Ng Lap Seng then Patrick Ho, but also this week's sentencings for the NYPD's guns for cash scandal (18 months in prison) and conspiracy to commit arson in The Bronx (28 months, see below). So what is system predatory lending worth? Doesn't it, too, ravage communities? Compare and contrast... A Bronx man who pled guilty to conspiracy leading to the b