July 27 (Reuters) - A Pennsylvania mortgage company owned by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc (BRKa.N)has reached a $24.4 million settlement to resolve U.S. government charges that it intentionally discriminated against Black and Hispanic families in the Philadelphia area.
The Department of Justice and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said Trident Mortgage Co from 2015 to 2019 deliberately avoided writing mortgages and discouraged people from applying for mortgages in majority-minority neighborhoods, known as redlining.
Wednesday's settlement, including a $4 million civil fine, is part of an initiative announced last October by Attorney General Merrick Garland to combat discriminatory lending. read more
The agencies said that by denying minorities equal access, including through deploying loan officers almost exclusively in majority-white neighborhoods, Trident prevented them from building wealth through their homes, depressing property values in Philadelphia; Camden, New Jersey and Wilmington, Delaware.
They also said Trident tolerated a racist culture, citing its failure to discipline a senior vice president who posed for a photo in front of a Confederate flag, and employee emails that referred to underserved communities as "ghetto" and one that exclaimed "BE PROUD TO BE WHITE!"
Trident did not admit or deny wrongdoing. The company and its Fox & Roach affiliate also entered related settlements with Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.
HomeServices of America, a Berkshire unit and Trident's parent, in a statement said it was committed to helping "close the racial gap in homeownership," and that Trident never denied or discouraged access to mortgages based on race.
"We strongly disagree with the agencies' interpretation of Trident's prior lending practices," HomeServices said.
Buffett was not accused of wrongdoing.
In addition to paying the $4 million fine, Trident will spend $18.4 million to subsidize loans to minorities in Philadelphia, and $2 million on education and serving credit needs in redlined areas.
Trident stopped making mortgage loans last year, and will contract with another lender on the subsidies.
“This settlement is a stark reminder that redlining is not a problem from a bygone era," said Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general from the Justice Department's civil rights division.
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