Former Chase Exec Makes Debt Sales Allegations in Lawsuit
A former assistant vice president for JPMorgan Chase Bank in San Antonio claims in a lawsuit she was fired after she told her bosses the bank had misrepresented the value of thousands of delinquent credit card accounts slated to be sold.
Chase knew that about 5,000 accounts had incorrect balance information, and that more than 11,000 accounts on which it claimed it had court judgments lacked adequate documentation showing judgments actually were obtained, former Chase credit card services “team leader” Linda Almonte charges in her lawsuit.
In some cases, she said, the judgments were against Chase rather than customers.
A spokesman for Chase, one of the nation's largest credit card issuers, said it doesn't comment on pending litigation.
The accounts in question were among some 23,000 delinquent credit card accounts with a value of more than $200 million that Chase packaged for sale, the suit says.
While Chase expected to receive no more than a few pennies on the dollar from a sale, it marked one of the largest portfolio sales ever for the credit card division, Almonte said by phone.
Almonte, who worked in Chase's collection litigation support section, said she was responsible for auditing the accounts. She took the portfolio of delinquent accounts off the market when she couldn't certify the accuracy of some of the judgments and balances.
(Accounts with judgments are more appealing to debt buyers because the court costs have been litigated and the buyer can pursue judgment remedies, such as garnisheeing wages or levying bank accounts, Almonte said.)
Almonte brought her concerns to her superiors, warning them the bank was violating federal law by intentionally misrepresenting the accounts, her lawsuit states. Nonetheless, she said she was told to proceed with the sale.
When she “refused to participate in Chase's fraud,” the lawsuit says, the bank fired her Nov. 30.
“I had to do the right thing even though I knew it wasn't the right thing for my family,” said Almonte, 39. “I'm still unemployed, and I have four children.”
Almonte's lawsuit, filed last week in Bexar County District Court, seeks unspecified financial damages. She's represented by John “Bruse” Loyd of Houston.
Institutions write off debts deemed uncollectible. They can sell the delinquent debt to collection agencies or debt buyers and then apply the money from a sale to their bottom line.
High unemployment has made it harder to collect delinquent debts, so buyers today are paying less than a few cents on the dollar for consumer debt more than 30 days past due, Almonte said.
Michael Cramer, president of the American Collectors Association of Texas, a trade group of collection agencies, expressed surprise when told of the allegations against Chase. Parties that sell debt make warranties that, if untrue, allow the buyers to return the debt and pocket a refund, Cramer said.
“I can't imagine them doing that,” Cramer said of Chase.
Anyone making fraudulent misrepresentations wouldn't be able to sell debt once the collections industry found out, he said, adding: “You're going to be out of business.”
Asked how Chase expected to get away with allegedly misrepresenting the portfolio of delinquent accounts, Almonte said, “Some of the conversations people had with me were, ‘We'll worry about it next year.'”
The primary concern, she added, was to sell the portfolio as quickly as possible to “offset the loss numbers” for 2009.
The card services division lost $2.2 billion last year after earning $780 million in 2008. It blamed the drop on a “significantly higher provision for credit losses.”
“Chase has grossly mismanaged its business, leading it to find ways to prop up its earnings,” Almonte's lawsuit charges.
Almonte said she believes Chase has sold some of the accounts.
Almonte's suit also claims the vast majority of the delinquent accounts with incorrect balance information had balances that were lower than what Chase represented.
Cramer, who's president of Arlington-based Dyck-O'Neal Inc., said any creditor providing incorrect account balances would be a concern for collection agencies.
That's because collection agencies typically notify credit bureaus of delinquent account balances 45 days after acquiring a debt, he said.
Reporting incorrect account balances to the credit bureaus is a violation of the Federal Credit Reporting Act, he said.