More than 3,100 refund checks totaling $1.5 million have been sent to Latinos who were allegedly charged higher prices for home loans by a Bakersfield mortgage company, the Federal Trade Commission said.
The checks were part of a settlement last year with Golden Empire Mortgage Inc. and its owner, Howard D. Kootstra, after the FTC accused them of illegally charging Latino customers more for mortgages than non-Latino borrowers.
The practice violated the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, which bars creditors from discriminating against loan applicants on the basis of race, color, national origin or other factors.
The FTC sued Golden Empire Mortgage and Kootstra in 2009, alleging that they charged Latinos substantially higher prices for mortgages that "cannot be explained by factors related to underwriting risk or credit characteristics of the applicants."
Loan officers allegedly received a percentage of the higher prices.
Golden Empire Mortgage operates in California and six other Western states. Attorneys for the company did not respond to a request for comment.
Under the terms of last year's settlement, a $5.5-million judgment would be suspended when $1.5 million in refund checks were distributed to borrowers who allegedly were discriminated against.
An FTC administrator mailed out 3,162 refund checks Friday. The payments ranged from about $10 to more than $11,000, depending on how much the customer was overcharged, the FTC said.
People who received the checks should cash them by June 21, the agency said.
Golden Empire customers with questions about the settlement can call the administrator, Gilardi & Co., at (888) 292-6875, or find information on the FTC's refund website at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/cases/redress.shtml.