Beaufort News

Beaufort Marine to recount his mortgage woes to Congress

U.S. Marine Capt. Jonathon Rowles of Beaufort is to appear today before a congressional committee investigating allegations JPMorgan Chase repeatedly violated a federal law designed to protect active-duty military personnel from financial stress.

Rowles has filed suit in federal court against a subsidiary of the nation's second-largest bank, alleging it violated the law during his recent deployment by threatening to foreclose on his home, requiring him to verify his active-duty status every 90 days for more than two years and aggressively seeking to collect more than he owed on a 2004 mortgage for a home in Colorado.

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act allows active-duty troops to receive mortgage-rate reductions and protects them from foreclosure. Rowles' lawyers, who include Bill Harvey of the Beaufort law firm Harvey & Battey, seek class-action status for the case and are urging Congress to strengthen the law.

Rowles, a fighter-jet pilot stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, and his wife, Julia, are scheduled to testify before the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, Harvey said.

In written testimony to the committee, Rowles' lawyers say their research has revealed "systematic violations" of the law that "directly defeat" its purpose.

The lawyers urge Congress to:

  • Stiffen maximum sentences for violations.
  • Impose civil fines for some violations not currently subject to such penalties.
  • Offer discounted fines to encourage violators to police and report themselves.
  • Provide military personnel with the statutory right to recover attorneys' fees, which can exhaust the awards troops typically receive under the current law.
  • The House committee will investigate the bank's actions, said its chairman, U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla.

    "The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act has been in place for decades, and I cannot believe that one of the nation's largest financial institutions appears to be disregarding the protections offered by that law," Miller said in a Jan. 21 announcement of the hearing. "I understand that a class action is imminent, and if the allegations are true, this amounts to widespread abuse of our nation's heroes and their families. I hope the court will hold Chase Bank accountable to the fullest extent of the law."

    The Rowles lawsuit has been amended to add two more service members. The amendments allege the bank illegally foreclosed on a home owned by an Army Reserve intelligence officer and violated the law in regard to a 2007 loan for a pickup truck owned by a Marine lance corporal.

    Chase officials have admitted they improperly foreclosed on the homes of 14 military families and might have overcharged 4,000. They have apologized for their mistakes and say they are fixing them.

    The bank also recently drew scrutiny for deciding to end a voluntary program that allowed service members to defer student-loan payments while on active duty. The bank reinstated the program after reporters asked about the decision, according to NBC News.