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Ameriquest sets aside $325m for settlement

NEW YORK -- Ameriquest Mortgage Co., one of the biggest US subprime mortgage lenders, said yesterday it has set aside $325 million for a potential settlement of a probe into its lending practices by regulators in 30 states, including Massachusetts.

The investigation concerns allegations that the Orange, Calif.-based company charged home buyers too many points on mortgages prior to February 2003, misrepresented loan terms, and conducted inaccurate appraisals.

Talks with the regulators are ongoing, and a settlement may not be reached, the company said in a statement.

Ameriquest lends to people with questionable credit. It has 10 branch offices in Eastern Massachusetts.

Ameriquest's parent, privately held ACC Capital Holdings Corp., said the $325 million reserve ''represents the company's best estimate of its maximum financial liability for a comprehensive resolution of this matter."

''We understand that Ameriquest has announced that related to our discussions it has recorded a provision of $325 million in its financial statements. The states do not disagree with Ameriquest's actions in this regard," said Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, who is leading the investigation.

Massachusetts is among the states involved in the settlement discussions, though a statement by Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly's office last night indicated that an agreement is far from complete. ''Some of Ameriquest's problems go back several years and others are continuing to this day," Reilly spokesman David Guarino said. ''Any resolution will require a significant payment by Ameriquest, including restitution to harmed consumers and significant changes in the way Ameriquest does business."

Sarah Ludwig, executive director of the Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project in New York, said the amount should be viewed ''in the context of a pretty broad problem."

In April, New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer sent letters to lenders asking how they set loan prices and fees, after data from mortgage lenders in March showed minorities frequently paid higher interest rates and higher fees than white customers.

Kimberly Blanton of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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