Warren Buffett’s company part of historic deal after claims of racist jokes and redlining

Warren Buffett’s company part of historic deal after claims of racist jokes and redlining

Trident Mortgage, a mortgage company that billionaire Warren Buffett’s company owns, was recently the target of a Department of Justice probe into claims of redlining that ended in what officials are calling the second-largest redlining settlement in the Justice Department’s history. It is the first such agreement the Justice Department has secured with a mortgage company, officials said in a news release on Wednesday. Trident Mortgage is a branch of Berkshire Hathaway’s HomeServices of America.

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said the Justice Department’s complaint alleges the company’s offices were concentrated in majority-white communities, and loan officers were not directed to serve communities of color. “The complaint also alleges that Trident employees exchanged emails where they referred to neighborhoods of color as ‘ghetto’ and made racists jokes,” Clarke said. “There’s even a photo of a senior Trident manager posing in front of a Confederate flag.”

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Under the agreement with the Justice Department, Trident must invest more than $20 million “in impacted communities of color in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware,” Clarke said in prepared remarks she gave on Wednesday at Malcolm X Park in West Philadelphia.

“The funds will be used to provide credit opportunities in areas that were redlined by Trident, including neighborhoods around this park,” she said.

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Attorney General Merrick Garland said in the news release announcing the historic agreement that the Justice Department probe follows his announcement last fall promising to “mobilize resources to make fair access to credit a reality in underserved neighborhoods” under the department’s Combatting Redlining Initiative.

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“As demonstrated by today’s historic announcement, we are increasing our coordination with federal financial regulatory agencies and state Attorneys General to combat the modern-day redlining that has unlawfully plagued communities of color,” Garland said.

Read every word of Clarke’s prepared remarks:

Good morning. My name is Kristen Clarke, and I am the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice. I am joined today by Josh Shapiro, the Attorney General of Pennsylvania; Rohit Chopra, the Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; Jacqueline Romero, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania; Lyndsay Ruotolo, the First Assistant Attorney General of New Jersey; and Kathy Jennings, the Attorney General of Delaware.

I’m pleased to be standing with you all today at Malcolm X Park in West Philadelphia to announce that the Justice Department and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) have secured an agreement with Trident Mortgage Company to resolve our claims of redlining discrimination in the Philadelphia metropolitan area, including communities in Camden, New Jersey, and Wilmington, Delaware. In addition, our state partners in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware have reached agreements with Trident and its affiliate company, Fox and Roach.

Our complaint, filed in federal court today, alleges that Trident violated the Fair Housing Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. Specifically, our complaint alleges that Trident’s office locations were concentrated in majority-white neighborhoods, that Trident’s loan officers were not directed to serve – and did not serve – the credit needs of neighborhoods of color and that Trident’s outreach and marketing avoided those neighborhoods. The complaint also alleges that Trident employees exchanged emails where they referred to neighborhoods of color as “ghetto” and made racists jokes; there’s even a photo of a senior Trident manager posing in front of a Confederate flag. Our complaint was filed along with a proposed consent order outlining the relief that we have secured.

Today’s agreement is historic for two reasons. First, this is the first redlining agreement that the Justice Department has secured with a mortgage company. Mortgage companies like Trident issue over 50% of the mortgage loans in the United States, so they are important players in the credit market and their lending practices have a significant effect on the availability of credit. Other non-depository lenders should be on notice that the Justice Department will continue to enforce federal housing laws to ensure equal opportunity to access credit.

Our agreement with Trident is also the Justice Department’s second largest agreement in history. Under this agreement, Trident must invest over $20 million dollars in impacted communities of color in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. The funds will be used to provide credit opportunities in areas that were redlined by Trident, including neighborhoods around this park. This infusion of lending resources into neighborhoods of color, including here in the Philadelphia metropolitan area, will help redress the harm caused by Trident’s unlawful activity.

West Philadelphia has long been the home of strong and vibrant Black and Latino communities. Unfortunately, it also been the home of prolonged residential racial segregation, just like so many other communities across the country. Even with the passage of the Fair Housing Act more than 50 years ago, banks and mortgage companies, like Trident, continue to find new ways to alter their lending practices in ways that cause harm to communities of color. These discriminatory practices exacerbate wealth disparities and promote economic injustice.

And we know that the current wealth disparities between Black and white families are staggering. Today, the median wealth of a Black family is approximately $24,000. The median wealth of a white family is approximately $188,000. A white family is 30% more likely to own a home than a Black family, meaning the homeownership gap is larger today than it was in 1960, before the passage of the Fair Housing Act.

Despite these grim statistics, the Justice Department is committed to aggressively enforcing our nation’s civil rights laws to ensure equal opportunity and economic justice for all Americans. Today’s agreement demonstrates that commitment.

Our enforcement action against Trident is part of the Justice Department’s Combatting Redlining Initiative. The initiative is drawing on the strengths of the department’s partnerships with the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, CFPB, other financial regulatory agencies, as well as State Attorneys General. Together, we are sending a strong message to banks, mortgage companies and other lenders that they will be held accountable for engaging in unlawful, modern-day redlining.

I want to thank our team inside the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department for their work on this matter. I also want to commend our partners at CFPB, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Eastern Pennsylvania and the State Attorneys General for Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey for their work on this case. Together, we mark a significant step forward in our collective efforts to ensure all people have equal opportunity to access the American dream.

I will now turn it over to Josh Shapiro, the Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

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