JPMorgan Chase & Co., the second-biggest U.S. bank by assets, said it is mailing $2 million in refunds to military families who were overcharged on mortgages or wrongfully lost their homes.
“We made mistakes here and we are fixing them,” Kristin Lemkau, a spokeswoman for the New York-based bank, said today in a telephone interview. JPMorgan’s mortgage unit is refunding excessive interest and fees charged to 4,000 active-duty personnel and reimbursing or reversing foreclosures for 14 other families who lost homes while on active duty, she said.
Marine Captain Jonathon Rowles, a pilot flying missions in South Korea, filed a lawsuit against JPMorgan July 6 in U.S. District Court in South Carolina. He claims military personnel were overcharged and subjected to aggressive collection practices. He accused the bank of violating the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, which protects active-duty personnel from foreclosure and prohibits banks from charging more than 6 percent for a mortgage. NBC News reported the lawsuit and JPMorgan’s refunds on Jan. 17.
Rowles said in the complaint that Chase Manhattan Mortgage Corp., a subsidiary that serviced his loan, didn’t adjust the interest rate on a $255,000 loan for his Colorado home even after Rowles repeatedly provided proof of military service. The bank “began to pursue aggressive collection methods,” calling his mother’s home, his workplace and his home up to three times a day, after midnight and sometimes at 4 a.m., he said.
JPMorgan conducted an internal review and has since put into place a team of mortgage specialists dedicated to servicing military loans, Lemkau said. “They deserve nothing less,” Lemkau said. “While any customer mistake is regrettable, we feel particularly bad about the mistakes we made here.”
Rowles is still pursuing his case, seeking damages, attorney’s fees and other costs, said Richard Harpootlian, Rowles’ lawyer in Columbia, South Carolina.
“Chase not only charged them too much, but harassed them,” Harpootlian said. “We’re looking for our day in court.”
Senator Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat who sits on the Senate Banking Committee, asked Attorney General Eric Holder in a letter yesterday to investigate.
“JPMorgan Chase was violating the law, and I am concerned other banks may also be wrongly overcharging our troops or taking unfair advantage of their situation,” Reed said in a statement. “I urge all the banks to review, acknowledge, and rectify any and all violations.”
The Rowles lawsuit has been stayed pending a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, in a case on whether private individuals can bring actions under this law.
The case is Rowles v. Chase Home Finance LLC, 9:10-cv-01756, U.S. District Court, District of South Carolina (Beaufort).