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Bank Beat

Freedom of Information

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As Valley National Bank Redlines, OCC's Runaround on FOIA, Captured

By Matthew R. Lee

NEW YORK, August 4 -- Some have wondered how large US national banks were allowed to get into predatory lending, why community groups' warnings were ignored, and the meltdown happened.  Well, here is a partial explanation.

   US bank regulators, then as now, find way to exclude public review. Take for example the US Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, part of the Department of Treasury, and its recent denial of access to bank information under the Freedom of Information Act, and on appeal.

  Beginning in May, Inner City Press began requesting information from the OCC about Valley National Bank and its proposed acquisition of Florida-based 1st United Bank.

  Fair Finance Watch and other NCRC members showed that Valley National's lending was disparate:  In 2012 in the New York City MSA for refinance loans, Valley National made 2152 such loans to whites and only 38 to African Americans -- entirely of keeping with the demographics and demographics of home ownership in the New York City MSA. Valley National denied 67% of such applications from African Americans, versus only 34.5% of such application from white.

  A first Inner City Press FOIA request about Valley National, the OCC's Rosalye Settles said she mis-understand, putting the entire request on hold then threatening to dismiss it.

  On June 8, Fair Finance Watch filed a second comment, including that:

Valley National has branches only below 88th Street in Manhattan (in which, intriguingly, a "Yellowbrick Real Estate Capital" breaks into the top five in pre-foreclosures).

  Valley National has no branches in Harlem, Washington Heights or The Bronx, predominantly African American and Latinos, low and moderate income areas.

  In Queens, it's Middle Village and Kew Gardens. In Brooklyn, Valley National's branches are along Ocean Parkway and in Bay Ridge. What about East New York, Brownsville, Bushwick and Bedford Stuyvesant?

  On July 16, Valley National submitted a response to the OCC, giving the OCC a full copy and a "redacted" or partially blacked out copy, as provided to Inner City Press, here.
  Inner City Press submitted a FOIA request to the OCC challenging the redactions. But the OCC's Marilyn Burton denied the FOIA request, saying it did not request any documents.
Click here for the OCC's FOIA denial.

 So Inner City Press submitted an appeal, linking to exactly the redacted documents as Valley National provided to the OCC. But the OCC Frank Vance ruled that this was not an appeal, copy here. All of this while the OCC could haul off and rubber stamp Valley National's merger application any day.

  This is why banks get over. And Fair Finance Watch, and Inner City Press, aim to expose and end these practices. Watch this site.


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