News

October 6, 2017
 

Justice Department obtains $700,000 for servicemembers to resolve allegations that two finance companies conducted illegal auto repos

LOS ANGELES — The Justice Department announced Sept. 27 that two Los Angeles-based consumer finance companies have agreed to pay a total of $760,788 to resolve allegations that the companies violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) by repossessing 70 vehicles owned by SCRA-protected servicemembers without first obtaining the required court orders.

Westlake Services, LLC and its subsidiary, Wilshire Consumer Capital, LLC, agreed to pay the settlement in an agreement finalized today.

The agreement resolves the claims made in the United States’ civil complaint against Westlake and Wilshire filed today in federal court in Los Angeles. The parties will stipulate to the dismissal of the lawsuit once Westlake and Wilshire deposit the funds required by the settlement agreement into an escrow account and pay the civil penalty to the United States.

Westlake, which does business as Westlake Financial Services, is an auto financing company that specializes in purchasing and servicing subprime and near- subprime retail installment sales contracts. Wilshire, which does business as Wilshire Consumer Credit, originates and services vehicle title loans. Both companies target junior enlisted servicemembers for their loans and products.

During its investigation, the Justice Department found that Westlake and Wilshire had failed to adopt policies and procedures necessary to ensure that their motor vehicle repossessions complied with the SCRA.

“The women and men who serve in the armed forces protect our country from danger every day,” said Acting United States Attorney Sandra R. Brown. “Given the enormous sacrifice they make for all of us, we have a responsibility to ensure that their rights are protected. Westlake and Wilshire did not live up to this responsibility. But the settlement we have reached will fix the lending practices that led to violations and vindicate the rights of the servicemembers affected.”

“The members of our armed forces should be able to devote their full attention to their duties without having to worry about whether their legal rights will be violated by creditors,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General John M. Gore. “We honor all servicemembers for their sacrifice and service to our nation, and this settlement signals our ongoing commitment to protecting the rights of our men and women in uniform.”

The settlement agreement requires Westlake and Wilshire to provide $10,000 in compensation to each of the 70 affected servicemembers, plus any lost equity in the vehicle with interest.

Westlake and Wilshire also must repair the credit of all affected servicemembers, pay a $60,788 civil penalty to the United States and determine, in the future, whether any vehicle it is planning to repossess is owned by an SCRA-protected servicemember. If so, Westlake and Wilshire will not repossess the vehicle without first obtaining a court order or valid waiver of SCRA rights. The agreement also contains provisions ensuring that all eligible servicemembers will receive the benefit of the SCRA’s 6 percent interest rate cap on their auto loans.

Westlake and Wilshire will contact servicemembers to be compensated through this settlement in the upcoming months. They will locate victims and distribute payments at no cost to servicemembers.

This matter came to the attention of the Justice Department in 2016, when the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Office of Servicemember Affairs notified the Department that it had received a complaint that Westlake and Wilshire were conducting motor vehicle repossessions in violation of the SCRA.

The SCRA protects servicemembers against certain civil proceedings that could affect their legal rights while they are in military service. It requires a court to review and approve any repossession if the servicemember took out the loan and made a payment before entering military service. The court may delay the repossession or require the lender to refund prior payments before repossessing. The court may also appoint an attorney to represent the servicemember, require the lender to post a bond with the court and issue any other orders it deems necessary to protect the servicemember.

By failing to obtain court orders before repossessing motor vehicles owned by protected servicemembers, Westlake and Wilshire prevented servicemembers from obtaining a court’s review of whether their repossessions should be delayed or adjusted to account for their military service.

The Justice Department’s enforcement of the SCRA is conducted by the Civil Rights Division’s Housing and Civil Enforcement Section, often in partnership with local United States Attorney’s Offices. Housing and Civil Enforcement Section attorneys worked jointly with the Civil Rights Section within the Civil Division of the United States Attorney’s Office to obtain the settlement with Westlake and Wilshire.

Since 2011, the Justice Department has obtained over $450 million in monetary relief for servicemembers through its enforcement of the SCRA. The SCRA provides protections for servicemembers in areas such as evictions, rental agreements, security deposits, prepaid rent, civil judicial proceedings, installment contracts, credit card interest rates, mortgage interest rates, mortgage foreclosures, automobile leases, life insurance, health insurance and income tax payments. For more information about the department’s SCRA enforcement, please visit  www.servicemembers.gov.

Servicemembers and their dependents who believe that their rights under SCRA have been violated should contact the nearest Armed Forces Legal Assistance Program Office. Office locations may be found at http://legalassistance.law.af.mil.




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