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U.S. charges N.Y. mortgage lender with defrauding government

By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) - The United States on Thursday sued a New York mortgage company it said defrauded the federal government into insuring poor quality home loans, costing taxpayers millions of dollars.

In a civil lawsuit filed in Manhattan federal court, the U.S. Department of Justice said Golden First Mortgage Corp and its president David Movtady "repeatedly lied" to the government between 2002 and 2010 to win Federal Housing Administration insurance for its home loans.

The lawsuit seeks compensatory damages, triple damages and fines for Golden First, which operated in Great Neck on New York's Long Island.

Samuel Rosenberg, a lawyer for the defendants, declined to comment.

The case is part of the government's effort to crack down on lenders it believes contributed to the U.S. housing crisis by issuing risky home loans.

Last year, Bank of America Corp , Citigroup Inc and Deutsche Bank AG agreed to pay a respective $1 billion, $158.3 million and $202.3 million to resolve similar lawsuits.

Wells Fargo & Co , the largest U.S. mortgage lender, is seeking to dismiss a similar lawsuit.

In its complaint against Golden First, the government said the company submitted repeated false certifications that its loans had undergone proper due diligence, and complied with rules of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, of which the FHA is a part.

Instead, the government said Golden First emphasized speed and volume over quality, paid kickbacks to employees to speed up loan approvals, and used just three people to close 100 to 200 loans a month, making adequate due diligence impossible.

The government said this led to an "extraordinarily high" default rate topping 60 percent on the $707 million of loans made since 2002. It said all 26 Golden First loans in a sampling from 2007 and 2008 had material underwriting violations.

"Golden First and David Movtady churned out bad loans and lied about their compliance with HUD requirements, leaving taxpayers on the hook for millions of dollars when the loans inevitably defaulted," U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in Manhattan said in a statement.

The Justice Department said the FHA has paid more than $12.3 million in insurance claims on Golden First loans since July 2007, and expects the amount to rise.

Under the Direct Endorsement Lender program in which Golden First participated between 1989 and 2010, neither HUD nor the FHA reviews home loans before they win approval for insurance, but lenders are supposed to follow the program's rules.

The government accused Golden First of violating the federal False Claims Act and the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act (FIRREA) of 1989, and also of committing negligence and breach of fiduciary duty.

FIRREA was passed in the wake of the 1980s savings and loan crisis. Federal investigators have used it more often in financial cases recently, in part because of its 10-year statute of limitations and the ability to seek higher damages.

The case is U.S. v. Golden First Mortgage Corp et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 13-02227.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Grant McCool)

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