WASHINGTON — The government’s consumer finance watchdog is in talks to settle charges that a California businessman falsely promised to help lower homeowners’ monthly mortgage payments.
Abraham Michael Pessar said that he is talking to officials and is close to resolving the case, the first of its kind brought by the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
The case, one of only two public enforcement actions by the agency, is seen as a bellwether of its approach to enforcing consumer laws. Companies, lawyers, and advocates are dissecting it for hints about how tough the new regulator will be.
The government in July accused Pessar and another businessman, Chance Gordon, of misleading homeowners about their chances of negotiating lower-mortgage payments. It says the two charged illegal, upfront fees and did little to help clients who signed up.
Pessar and Gordon marketed their service to struggling homeowners with mailed flyers and phone marketing, the government said in its complaint. Some of the flyers included the logos of government agencies and a Washington, D.C., mailbox address.
The businesses’ phone operators sometimes suggested that people should stop paying their mortgages in order to qualify for lower payments, the government said. That also would violate consumer protection laws.
A federal district court in central California allowed the bureau to raid the men’s offices, freeze their assets, and investigate assertions that homeowners in at least 25 states were misled about the company’s services. It appointed a receiver to oversee the companies.