St. Louis, Missouri homeowners in four counties and St. Louis City sued Ameriquest Mortgage Company, the nation's largest private subprime lender, alleging it engaged in predatory and abusive practices when refinancing their home loans. Brought by 29 families, the lawsuits — filed May 9 in St. Louis City, Jackson County, St. Charles County and St. Louis County, and filed on March 30 in Jefferson County — name as defendants Ameriquest, its wholly owned subsidiary Argent Mortgage Company, several title companies, closing agents, notary services and brokers.
Ameriquest lends to credit-impaired homeowners who often pay rates between a half and four points higher than prime market borrowers. The suits allege the defendants worked together, targeting low income, elderly and minority borrowers with one or more of the following predatory and abusive practices:
- Charged excessive fees, points and interest rates;
- Misled borrowers about their credit profile, steering them toward high-cost loans;
- Made loans without regard to the borrowers ability to repay;
- Engaged in loan flipping by refinancing loans within a short time period then charging borrowers a secret prepayment penalty of several thousand dollars;
- Trapped homeowners into predatory loans with excessive prepayment penalties;
- Engaged in aggressive, high pressure and misleading sales tactics;
- Falsified loan documents.
Festus resident Harold Bowyer is one of the plaintiffs. He refinanced a 15-month-old Ameriquest variable mortgage with a 7.7 percent interest floor and a 13.7 percent ceiling. Defendant Midwest Mortgage Consultants claimed he could lower his interest rate to six or seven percent. The second Ameriquest loan was closed at his home. Bowyer was told to sign his dying wife's name to the documents. The original $107,100 mortgage was flipped for a new loan of $122,550 with $6,519.04 in fees, which the borrower alleges included secret prepayment penalties. Bowyer later learned the new loan had a 10.15 percent floor interest rate and 16.15 percent ceiling.
The plaintiffs are represented by St. Louis lawyers John Simon, Erich Vieth and John E. Campbell of The Simon Law Firm. "Ameriquest has a long history of predatory lending practices," said Erich Vieth of The Simon Law firm, "They consistently violated their own Best Practices policy." These new lawsuits were covered by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and KMOX Radio.