Home / Business / The new leader of the Consumer Office directs a sudden reversal

The new leader of the Consumer Office directs a sudden reversal



Within the agency, the change has been rapid. Mr. Mulvaney briefly stopped approving payments to some victims of financial crimes, stopped hiring, froze all new regulations and ordered a review of active investigations and lawsuits. Some, he said, will be abandoned.

"This place will be different, under my direction and under whoever follows me," Mulvaney said Monday on an agency he previously denounced as a "sad, sick" example. of the deranged bureaucracy.

Mr. Mulvaney assumed the leadership of the office, created after the global financial crisis, less than two weeks ago. The abrupt resignation of Richard Cordray, the former director of the office that had been appointed by President Barack Obama, unleashed an extraordinary public struggle for control of the agency. The battle confronted Mr. Mulvaney, who was appointed interim director by President Trump, against Leandra English, the deputy director of the Bureau under Mr. Cordray. While Mr. Trump can appoint his own director, the confirmation could take months. Until then, the acting director is in charge.

Last week, a federal judge ruled in Mr. Mulvaney's favor, denying an emergency motion that Ms. English had filed to prevent the White House from selecting a temporary director. The lawsuit is ongoing.

The office has been investigating Santander, the giant Spanish bank, for overcharging car loan customers. Given the tenor of recent conversations within the office, the agency's lawyers suspect that the investigation could be filed under Mr. Mulvaney, according to four people with knowledge of the case who requested anonymity to discuss an investigation.

Raschelle Burton, spokesperson for Santander, said the company was not aware of any lawsuit planned by CFPB

Agency employees said they were analyzing each comment and note of their new leader in search of clues about their future.

Some employees, including some of the senior officials in the office, have welcomed their new leader. Others, pointing out Mr. Mulvaney's previous hostility towards the agency and its mission, silently resist. A small group calls itself "Dumbledore's Army," according to two of the people who were familiar with their discussions. The name is a reference to a secret resistance force in the "Harry Potter" books.

An atmosphere of intense anxiety has taken hold, several employees said. In some cases, conversations between staff that used to be done by phone or by text now occur almost exclusively in person or through encrypted messaging applications.

Mr. Mulvaney has begun to examine the ongoing lawsuits filed by the agency and its process of gathering information from the companies under investigation. The agency's so-called demand letters, a research tool used in the early stages of the investigations, are "quite broad and quite burdensome," he told reporters on Monday.

That same day, the office suspended an investigation into a company that had opposed the regulator's information requests.

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The resignation of Richard Cordray, long-time director of the CFPB, sparked a fight in court and represented the best opportunity for Republicans to remake the agency.

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Pete Marovich / Getty Images

In that case, the office sent a request for information in August to Nexus Services, a company in Verona, Virginia, that offers bail for detained immigrants. Nexus opposed the agency's "overly broad and unduly burdensome" request and refused to comply. In October, the company sued the office of the Federal District Court in Washington, to prevent investigators from contacting their clients and business partners.

In a court appearance on Monday, the lawyers of the office agreed to stop the investigation until Nexus is resolved, according to court records. A senior adviser to Mr. Mulvaney, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said the decision had been made after talks with Nexus and the judge.

Remaking the agency, which has unusual authority and independence, has been a priority for Republicans since it was created in 2010. Until Mr. Cordray left, they had obtained very little traction.

The agency often adopted an aggressive stance towards regulating and punishing companies. It extracted almost $ 12 billion in refunds and canceled debts for 29 million consumers.

After Mr. Trump took office, Mr. Cordray seemed to duplicate the aggressive approach. It unleashed a barrage of coercive rules and actions, including new restrictions in the payday loan industry.

Mr. Mulvaney said he thought Congress should override those rules, just as they did recently with a rule that would allow borrowers to group together in class action lawsuits against financial institutions for unfair and deceptive business practices.

But as the Nationwide case shows, the action of Congress is not the only way to change the strategy of the consumer office.

Nationwide described itself as a service provider to help customers reduce interest payments on their mortgages.

Two years ago, shortly after it was sued by the consumer office, the company suspended its operations. Now, he wants to go back to business, but he can not afford to do it if he must pay the $ 8 million fine immediately. "He's too broke to even pay a bonus," company owner Daniel S. Lipsky said in a court appearance.

If the court does not demand the bonus, Nationwide Biweekly can start trading again, Lipsky said.

At the beginning of last week, Mr. Lipsky's lawyer prepared a personal appeal to Mr. Mulvaney, alleging his client's case.

Mr. Mulvaney said he knew the letter but had not read it. So far he was only holding internal meetings with employees of the office, he said at the meeting with journalists, and has not yet responded to the messages he has received from consumer groups, bankers and lobbyists.

"I do not want anyone to say that Mulvaney was influenced in one way or another by someone who sent him a FedEx package," he said.

The removal from the office of his Nationwide application to send a bonus had been requested by Mr. Mulvaney, according to two of the people.

Mr. Mulvaney's advisor disputed the idea that the decision represented a significant change in the office's position. The agency was simply taking a more independent role in the case, said Mr. Mulvaney's advisor.

Nationwide attorney Helen Mac Murray said the change was a promising sign. Your client is anxious to resume operations. This week, a judge accepted the company's request to proceed without bail.

"As we have said for years, this is a law-abiding business that helps consumers save money," said Ms. Mac Murray. "We hope that the new leadership at C.F.P.B will follow the law and stop using unreasonable and unreasonable bureaucratic tyranny to close a business that helps consumers."

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