Federal agency halts investigation of Virginia ﬁrm accused of preying on detainees
By MICHAEL E. MILLER | The Washington Post | Published: December 5, 2017
An embattled federal consumer watchdog agency has agreed to suspend its investigation into a Virginia-based company accused of preying on detained immigrants.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — plunged into disarray last month by dueling directors — will pull back on its probe of Libre by Nexus until a federal judge rules on a lawsuit that the company filed against the agency.
The agreement came not long after the bureau was gripped by chaos. On Nov. 24, the bureau's longtime director, Richard Cordray, resigned and named his chief of staff as acting director until the Senate could confirm a permanent replacement. A few hours later, however, President Donald Trump announced his own pick for the job: Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Last week, a federal judge sided with Mulvaney.
Monday's agreement to suspend the investigation into Libre sparked fears that the bureau was shelving investigations under its new leadership. It was made the same day that Mulvaney told reporters he is reviewing the agency's ongoing investigations and lawsuits.
But John Czwartacki, a spokesman for the OMB who is also a senior adviser at the bureau, said that suspending the inquiry into Libre was not a sign of a broader shift.
"I know of no other changes along the lines of [this] case," he said.
Mike Donovan, chief executive of Libre's parent company, Nexus Services, celebrated the suspension of the investigation as a "win."
"It's about time," he said in a news release. "My company has already spent tens of thousands of dollars dealing with the CFPB just to get to this point."
Libre by Nexus helps post bond for people being held in immigration detention centers while they wait for their cases to be heard in backlogged courts. In exchange for their freedom, immigrants sign contracts promising to pay Libre $420 per month while wearing the company's GPS ankle devices.
Those contracts have been the subject of lawsuits and allegations of fraud by immigrants who said that they did not understand them. The company has denied wrongdoing.
The CFPB was created by Congress, after the 2007 mortgage-lending crisis, to regulate banks, payday lenders and other financial institutions.
In a civil investigative demand, or CID, that it sent to Libre on Aug. 22, the bureau sought records on Libre's more than 15,000 current and former clients to determine whether the company was acting as a lender without proper oversight and was engaged in "unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts and practices."
Libre filed a petition to block the demand, arguing that it was not a lender and so was "not subject to the demands of the CFPB." The company also argued that the bureau's demand was "excessively vague and overbroad" and would cost 8,060 hours of work and $204,160 to fulfill.
In an Oct. 11 reply, Cordray insisted that the bureau was authorized to investigate if Libre had broken the law and demanded it produce the requested records within 10 calendar days.
Libre instead sued the bureau in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Five days later, the bureau filed its own suit seeking the documents.
Monday's agreement to suspend the investigation into Libre came as a surprise, said Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg of the Virginia-based Legal Aid Justice Center, who has been a critic of Libre.
"It's anything but regular," he said. "My concern is that this is the first of many important CFPB investigations that will be indefinitely put on ice."
A video Libre released last month adds to the surprise surrounding the agreement. Titled "More powerful than the President," it accused the bureau of "corruption" and labeled its investigation a "witch hunt."