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Case 1:15-cv-00299 Document 1 Filed 04/14/15 Page 1 of 24

IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT


DISTRICT OF NEW MEXICO
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
and Navajo Nation,
Plaintiffs,

Civil Action No.


COMPLAINT

v.
S/W Tax Loans, Inc. formerly d/b/a
Fast Refund Loans, Inc.; J Thomas
Development of NM, Inc. formerly
d/b/a H&R Block; Dennis R. Gonzales;
and Jeffrey Scott Thomas,
Defendants.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Navajo Nation bring
this action against S/W Tax Loans, Inc. formerly d/b/a Fast Refund Loans, Inc.; J
Thomas Development of NM, Inc. formerly d/b/a H&R Block; Dennis R.
Gonzales; and Jeffrey Scott Thomas (collectively, Defendants) and allege as
follows:
INTRODUCTION
1.

Jeffrey Scott Thomas, through his company, J Thomas Development

of NM, Inc., operated several H&R Block franchises in New Mexico and the
territory of the Navajo Nation.

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2.

Around 1998, Thomas set up and financed S/W Tax Loans, Inc.

(Southwest), a loan company created to offer Thomass tax clients short-term,


triple-digit-APR loans secured by the consumers anticipated tax refund also
known as refund-anticipation loans (RALs). Thomas ordered his tax preparers
to recommend only Southwests RALs and not to offer H&R Blocks more
affordable alternative. Thomas paid his tax preparers bonuses based on the
number of tax clients who received Southwests RALs, and concealed from
consumers the financial interest he and his tax preparers had in each high-cost
RAL they recommended. Additionally, Southwest failed to make other required
disclosures about the high-cost products they were foisting on consumers.
3.

Plaintiffs bring this suit to secure relief for injured consumers, to

stop the unlawful conduct by Defendants, and to obtain a penalty against them.
JURISDICTION AND VENUE
4.

This Court has subject-matter jurisdiction over this action because it

is brought under Federal consumer financial law, 12 U.S.C. 5565(a)(1),


presents a federal question, 28 U.S.C. 1331, and is brought by an agency of the
United States, 28 U.S.C. 1345, and by an Indian tribe under federal law, 28
U.S.C. 1362.

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5.

Venue is proper because Defendants resided, were located, and

transacted business in this district, and a substantial part of the events or


omissions giving rise to the claims occurred in this district. 28 U.S.C. 111,
1391(b); 12 U.S.C. 5564(f).
PARTIES
6.

Plaintiff Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is an agency of the

United States charged with regulating the offering and providing of consumerfinancial products and services under Federal consumer financial laws, including
the Truth in Lending Act (TILA), 12 U.S.C. 1601 et seq., and its implementing
regulations (Regulation Z), 12 C.F.R. pt. 1026; and the Consumer Financial
Protection Act of 2010 (CFPA), 12 U.S.C. 5531, 5536(a)(1). See 12 U.S.C.
5491(a); see also id. 5481(12), (14). The Bureaus regulatory authority extends to
persons extending credit and service providers to those persons. 12 U.S.C.
5531(a), 5481(5), (6), (15)(A)(i), (26). The Bureau has independent litigating
authority to commence civil actions to address violations of Federal consumer
financial laws, including TILA, Regulation Z, and the CFPA. 12 U.S.C. 5564(a)(b); 15 U.S.C. 1607(a)(6).
7.

Plaintiff Navajo Nation is a sovereign Indian nation with over

300,000 citizens. Its sovereign lands include lands also within the boundaries of

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the State of New Mexico. Some of its citizens seek consumer-credit products such
as those offered by Defendants, particularly in border towns surrounding the
Nations territory. The Navajo Nation Department of Justice, the attorney
generals office for the Nation, explicitly has authority to enforce the CFPA. 12
U.S.C. 5481(27) (including Indian tribes in definition of State); 5552(a)(1)
(authorizing enforcement action by attorney general of State).
8.

Defendant Southwest is a New Mexico corporation with offices in

Bloomfield, Farmington, North Gallup, South Gallup, and Shiprock. At times


material to this Complaint, Southwest regularly extended consumer credit
subject to finance charges and was the person to whom the debt arising from the
consumer-credit transaction was initially payable on the face of the evidence of
indebtedness. Southwest is therefore a covered person under the CFPA and a
creditor under TILA and Regulation Z. 12 U.S.C. 5481(6), (15)(A)(i); 15 U.S.C.
1602(g); 12 C.F.R. 1026.2(17).
9.

Defendant J Thomas Development of NM, Inc. formerly d/b/a H&R

Block (the Tax Franchise) is a New Mexico corporation that owned and
operated four H&R Block franchises. At times material to this Complaint, the Tax
Franchise referred its clients to Southwest for RALs and collected and processed
transactions and documentation related to those RAL applications. The Tax

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Franchise is therefore a service provider under the CFPA. 12 U.S.C.


5481(26)(A).
10.

Defendant Jeffrey Scott Thomas is a New Mexico resident who

served as the Tax Franchises president. Thomas participated in designing,


operating, and maintaining the RALs that Southwest offered to Tax Franchise
customers. At times material to this Complaint, Thomas directed the Tax
Franchise to refer its clients to Southwest for RALs and to collect and process
transactions and documentation in support of those RAL applications. Thomas is
therefore a service provider to Southwest. 12 U.S.C. 5481(26)(A).
Additionally, at times material to this Complaint, Thomas materially participated
in the affairs of Southwest. Thomas is therefore a related person to Southwest
under the CFPA. 12 U.S.C. 5481(25)(C)(ii). Because Thomas is a related
person, he is deemed a covered person under the CFPA. 12 U.S.C.
5481(25)(B).
11.

Defendant Dennis R. Gonzales is a New Mexico resident who

owned Southwest and served as its president. Additionally, at times material to


this Complaint, Gonzales had managerial responsibility for Southwest and
materially participated in the conduct of its affairs. Gonzales is therefore a
related person to Southwest under the CFPA. 12 U.S.C. 5481(25)(C)(i), (ii).

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Because Gonzales is a related person, he is deemed a covered person under


the CFPA. 12 U.S.C. 5481(25)(B).
FACTS
A.

The Tax Franchise offered tax-preparation services within or near the


Navajo Nation.
12.

In the late 1990s, the Tax Franchise began offering tax-preparation

services in four locations within the territory of the Navajo Nation or in New
Mexico near the Nations territory. Most of the Tax Franchises customers were
low-income citizens of the Navajo Nation who qualified for and relied on the
Earned Income Tax Credit. Many of those customers desired immediate access to
cash for personal, family, or household needs and wanted to defer payment for
tax-preparation services.
13.

The Tax Franchise could have offered H&R Blocks proprietary

financial products to meet its clients short-term cash needs. These products
included H&R Blocks line of credit, which provided cash advances on tax
refunds and had a maximum 36% APR.

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B.

Thomas created Southwest to offer high-cost, short-term loans to the Tax


Franchises clients.
14.

Around 1998, Thomas set up Southwest, a tax-loan company, to

offer to the Tax Franchises clients RALs with APRs above 240%.
15.

Thomas installed Gonzales, a friend and employee in one of

Thomass automobile dealerships, as the president and owner of Southwest.


Southwest opened offices next door to each of the Tax Franchises locations.
16.

Thomas financed Southwests entire operation, providing

everything from start-up capital to the funding for all of the RALs. Thomas kept
close control over Southwest. Thomas installed staff, made the general manager
of Southwest report directly to him, and set Gonzaless salary; he approved loan
rates, maximum loan limits, underwriting criteria, loan-volume targets, and the
terms of the RAL agreements; he determined advertising and marketing copy;
and he received daily-activity reports monitoring loan volume. Indeed, in
various internal communications, Thomas referred to Southwest and the Tax
Franchise as sister companies and the tax/loan division of his business
enterprises.

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17.

Southwests RALs were much more expensive than H&R Blocks

line of credit. The APRs on the RALs ranged from approximately 240-310%,
while the APR for the H&R Block line of credit did not exceed 36%.
18.

Thomass investment in Southwest was highly lucrative. Through

various companies he owned and controlled, Thomas earned significant income


from Southwest, including interest and origination fees and consulting fees for
compliance, audit, and other services.
C.

Thomas and the Tax Franchise steered consumers to Southwests costly


RALs
19.

Thomas and the Tax Franchise played critical and sustaining roles in

the offering and provision of Southwest RALs.


20.

Each November and December, Southwest offered holiday RALs

based on the Tax Franchises estimate of the consumers expected refund the
following year. The estimate was typically based on pay stubs or the refund from
the prior year. The Tax Franchises tax preparers presented holiday-loan
applications and other associated forms to consumers, helped consumers
complete the forms, and collected birth certificates and social-security cards of
entire families to serve as collateral for the loans and to ensure the clients

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returned to the Tax Franchise to get their taxes done. Thomas approved and
financed radio and print advertisements for the holiday RALs.
21.

Southwest also offered RALs during tax season. The Tax Franchises

tax preparers provided many of these same support functions for those RALs,
including presenting loan applications and other forms.
22.

Like the consumers seeking holiday loans, many of the Tax

Franchises tax-preparation clients were low-income and had immediate cash


needs. For Thomas, these cash-strapped consumers were a ready pool of
customers for Southwests high-cost RALs. During tax season, Thomas instructed
the Tax Franchise employees to refer tax clients to Southwest for RALs and gave
the tax preparers a financial incentive to do so. Each season, the tax preparers
received a bonus based on the number of RALs their customers received from
Southwest.
23.

Neither Thomas nor the Tax Franchise disclosed to the tax clients

that Thomas and his tax preparers had a financial interest in each and every RAL
the clients took out from Southwest.
24.

From 2011 through 2013, Southwest provided RALs to about 7,000

consumers annually and, in total, issued more than 39,000 RALs with a face
value of more than $36 million.

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D.

Southwest did not disclose that consumers tax refunds had been
received and would soon be available but instead persuaded consumers
to take out additional RALs.
25.

Southwest set forth the terms and conditions of its RALs in a Loan

Agreement and Disclosure Statement and a RAL Authorization/Certification


Agreement (collectively the RAL Agreement).
26.

Under the terms of the RAL Agreement, consumers had to cede

control over their refunds to Southwest. The RAL Agreement authorized


Southwest to receive consumers state and federal tax refunds, endorse their
refund checks, use their tax refunds to pay off RALs and the tax-preparation
services provided by the Tax Franchise, and contact the IRS to determine the
status of their refunds. It also authorized Southwest to open bank accounts in
consumers names for the deposit of their tax refund checks.
27.

Consumers had to rely on Southwest to learn when their tax refunds

had arrived.
28.

During tax season, the process of reconciling tax-refund checks from

the IRS took a few days. Southwest deducted the principal, interest, and fees for
its RALs and the Tax Franchises tax-preparation fees from the tax refund. The
remaining refund was remitted to the consumer.

10

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29.

Southwest did not disclose to more than 1,500 consumers that their

tax refunds had been received from the IRS and were being processed. Instead,
when these consumers inquired about the status of their refund, Southwest
persuaded the consumers to take out a second RAL.
30.

Many consumers, had they know that their refunds had been

received and would be available to them in a matter of days, would not have
taken out another high-cost Southwest RAL. Because Southwest concealed this
information from them, many consumers unwittingly paid significant fees to
borrow funds that would have been available to them in only a few days.
31.

In January 2013, H&R Block notified Thomas that Southwest was

issuing second and third RALs to consumers whose tax refunds had been
received by the company. Thomas took no steps to stop or prevent this practice,
even though he had authority to do so.
32.

Gonzales was the president and owner of Southwest, and had the

authority to control Southwests operations and activities. He knew or should


have known about Southwests practices of extending unnecessary RALs but
took no steps to stop or prevent it.

11

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33.

From 2011 through 2014, Southwest extended RALs to more than

1,500 consumers whose refunds had already been received, charging more than
$250,000 in interest and fees.
E.

Southwests RAL Agreement grossly understated the loans APR.


34.

Thomas played a key role in determining the APR disclosures for

the RALs.
35.

Gonzales had the authority to control Southwests activities and

operations, and knew or should have known about the companys inaccurate
RAL disclosures.
36.

The RAL Agreement required consumers to pay back RALs on

demand or when [their] anticipated refunds [were] received from the federal and
state (if applicable) agencies.
37.

From 2011 through 2012, Southwests RAL Agreement failed to

disclose that the APR provided was based on a loan-term estimate.


38.

Southwest also understated the APRs on RALs it issued from

January to May 2013 by using an inflated loan-term estimate to calculate the


APR. Southwest used a 45-day loan-term estimate in calculating the APR even
though its RAL Agreement stated that the IRS normally makes an electronic
deposit in an average of about 12 days.

12

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39.

H&R Block terminated its relationship with the Tax Franchise in late

2014. As a result, both the Tax Franchise and Southwest ceased their operations.
COUNT I
by the Bureau and the Nation against the Tax Franchise and Thomas for
abusive steering, in violation of the CFPA
40.

The Bureau and the Nation reallege and incorporate by reference

paragraphs 1 through 39.


41.

Section 1036(a)(1)(B) of the CFPA prohibits abusive acts or practices

in connection with the offering or provision of consumer financial products or


services. 12 U.S.C. 5536(a)(1)(B); see also id. 5531(a). An act or practice is
abusive if it takes unreasonable advantage of the inability of the consumer to
protect her interests in selecting or using a consumer financial product or service.
12 U.S.C. 5531(d)(2)(B).
42.

Although authorized to sell H&R Block financial products through

the Tax Franchise, including a line of credit with a 36% APR, Thomas created and
financed Southwest to sell high-cost RALs to the Tax Franchises clients.
43.

Thomas bankrolled Southwests entire business, including financing

all its RALs, but presented Southwest to the public as a separate and
independent firm.

13

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44.

The Tax Franchises clients were generally low-income consumers

with immediate cash needs. Thomas and the Tax Franchise sought to capitalize
on these cash-strapped and vulnerable consumers by steering them to Southwest
for high-cost RALs.
45.

Thomas and the tax preparers had a financial interest in each

Southwest RAL their tax clients took out. The Tax Franchise paid its tax
preparers a seasonal bonus based on the number of Southwest RALs their clients
took out. Thomas, through various entities he owned and controlled, earned
significant income from Southwest, including interest and origination fees, and
consulting fees for compliance, audit, and other services.
46.

Neither Thomas nor the Tax Franchise disclosed those financial

interests to the tax clients they steered to Southwests RALs. The tax clients thus
lacked important information in evaluating whether to choose a Southwest RAL
or to seek an alternative financial product to meet their short-term cash needs.
47.

By failing to disclose their financial interests in the high-cost loan

products to which they were steering their cash-strapped and vulnerable


customers, Thomas and the Tax Franchise took unreasonable advantage of their
tax clients inability to protect their own interests in selecting a Southwest RAL.

14

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48.

Thus, Thomas and the Tax Franchise engaged in abusive acts or

practices in violation of 1036(a)(1)(B) and 1031(d)(2)(B) of the CFPA. 12 U.S.C.


5536(a)(1)(B), 5531(d)(2)(B).
COUNT II
by the Bureau and the Nation against Southwest, Thomas, and Gonzales for
unfair extensions of credit, in violation of the CFPA
49.

The Bureau and the Nation reallege and incorporate by reference

paragraphs 1 through 39.


50.

Section 1036(a)(1)(B) of the CFPA prohibits unfair acts or practices in

connection with the offering or provision of consumer financial products or


services. 12 U.S.C. 5536(a)(1)(B); see also id. 5531(a).
51.

An act or practice is unfair if it causes or is likely to cause consumers

substantial injury that is not reasonably avoidable and is not outweighed by


countervailing benefits to consumers or to competition. 12 U.S.C. 5531(c)(1).
52.

Under the RAL Agreement, Southwest assumed control over

consumers tax refunds, obtaining the power to receive and endorse the
consumers refund checks and contact the IRS to learn the status of the refunds.
As a result, Southwest knew or should have known when the consumers tax
refunds had been received.

15

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53.

Southwest extended RALs to consumers whose refunds they knew

or should have known had been received without disclosing this information to
consumers.
54.

Southwests practice of extending RALs to consumers without

disclosing that their tax refunds had been received was likely to cause substantial
injury to consumers. Many consumers, had they known that their refunds had
been received and would be available to them in a few days, likely would not
have taken out additional RALs with triple-digit APRs.
55.

This injury was not reasonably avoidable by consumers because the

refund checks were sent to Southwest, and the consumers, having ceded control
over their refund to Southwest as a condition of the loan, had to rely on
Southwest to learn whether their refund check had been received.
56.

The substantial injury caused by this practice of extending

unnecessary high-cost RALs without disclosing critical information that is, that
the tax refund had been received is not outweighed by any countervailing
benefits to consumers or competition created by failing to inform consumers of
information that was likely to impact their decision to take out a RAL.
57.

Thus, Southwest engaged in unfair acts and practices in violation of

1036(a)(1)(B) and 1031(c)(1) of the CFPA. 12 U.S.C. 5536(a)(1)(B), 5531(c)(l).

16

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58.

Thomas knew Southwest was extending RALs to consumers whose

refunds had been received but took no steps to stop or prevent the practice.
59.

Likewise, Gonzales was the owner and president of Southwest. He

knew or should have known of these wrongful acts but took no steps to stop or
prevent them.
60.

Because Thomas and Gonzales are related persons to Southwest,

they are each deemed a covered person under the CFPA. 12 U.S.C. 5481(25).
Thomas and Gonzales are liable for violations of the CFPA.
COUNT III
by the Bureau and the Nation against Southwest, Thomas, and Gonzales for
abusive extensions of credit, in violation of the CFPA
61.

The Bureau and the Nation reallege and incorporate by reference

paragraphs 1 through 39.


62.

Section 1036(a)(1)(B) of the CFPA prohibits abusive acts or practices

in connection with the offering or provision of consumer financial products or


services. 12 U.S.C. 5536(a)(1)(B); see also id. 5531(a).
63.

An act or practice is abusive if it takes unreasonable advantage of

the inability of the consumer to protect the interests of the consumer in selecting
or using a consumer financial product or service. 12 U.S.C. 5531(d)(2)(B).

17

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64.

Because Southwest withheld crucial information from consumers

about their tax refunds i.e., that they had been received into accounts
Southwest controlled and were being processed by Southwest, and would be
available in days consumers were unable to protect their interests in
determining whether to take out an additional high-cost RAL.
65.

By extending an additional high-cost RAL without disclosing to

consumers that their tax refunds had been received into accounts that Southwest
controlled, Southwest took unreasonable advantage of consumers inability to
protect their interests in selecting a Southwest RAL.
66.

Thus, Southwest engaged in abusive acts and practices in violation

of 1036(a)(1)(B) and 1031(d)(2)(B) of the CFPA. 12 U.S.C. 5536(a)(1)(B),


5531(d)(2)(B).
67.

Because Thomas and Gonzales are related persons to Southwest,

they are each deemed a covered person under the CFPA. 12 U.S.C. 5481(25).
Thomas and Gonzales are liable for violations of the CFPA.

18

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COUNT IV
by the Bureau and the Nation against Southwest, Thomas, and Gonzales for
deceptive extensions of credit, in violation of the CFPA
68.

The Bureau and the Nation reallege and incorporate by reference

paragraphs 1 through 39.


69.

Section 1036(a)(1)(B) of the CFPA prohibits deceptive acts or

practices in connection with the offering or provision of consumer financial


products or services. 12 U.S.C. 5536(a)(1)(B); see also id. 5531(a).
70.

An act or practice is deceptive if it is likely to mislead customers

acting reasonably under the circumstances and the representation was material.
71.

Southwest, in urging consumers to take out new loans when

consumers inquired about the status of their refunds, created the misleading
impression that the refunds had not yet been received and that the consumers
would need a new loan to obtain cash. Indeed, by extending new RALs to
consumers inquiring whether their refunds had been received, Southwest
implied that the consumers tax refunds had not yet arrived.
72.

Southwest failed to disclose that the consumers refunds had been

received and would be available in a matter of days. Those facts would have
been material to consumers in deciding whether to take out another high-cost
RAL, incurring substantial fees and interest as a result.

19

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73.

As a result, Southwests extensions of RALs without disclosing that

consumers tax refunds had been received constitute deceptive acts and practices
in violation of 1031(a) and 1036(a)(1)(B) of the CFPA, 12 U.S.C. 5531(a),
5536(a)(1)(B).
74.

Because Thomas and Gonzales are related persons to Southwest,

they are each deemed a covered person under the CFPA. 12 U.S.C. 5481(25).
Thomas and Gonzales are liable for violations of the CFPA.
COUNT V
by the Bureau against Southwest for violations of Regulation Z
75.

The Bureau realleges and incorporates by reference paragraphs 1-39.

76.

Section 1026.17(c)(2)(i) of Regulation Z provides that if information

necessary for an accurate disclosure is unknown to the creditor, the creditor shall
make the disclosure based on the best information reasonably available at the
time the disclosure is provided to the consumer, and shall state clearly that the
disclosure is an estimate. 12 C.F.R. 1026.17(c)(2)(i).
77.

From 2011 through 2012, Southwest failed to disclose in its RAL

Agreement that its APR disclosure was based upon an estimate of the loan term
for the RAL.

20

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78.

From January to May 2013, Southwest based its APR disclosures on

a 45-day loan-term estimate even though the companys RAL Agreements noted
that the IRS generally processed refunds in about twelve days.
79.

Thus, Southwest violated Regulation Z in its disclosure of the APRs

for its RALs.


COUNT VI
by the Bureau and the Nation against Southwest for violations of the CFPA
relating to Regulation Z
80.

The Bureau and the Nation reallege and incorporate by reference

paragraphs 1 through 39.


81.

Section 1036(a)(1)(A) of the CFPA provides that is unlawful for . . .

any covered person or service provider . . . to offer or provide to a consumer any


financial product or service not in conformity with Federal consumer financial
law, or otherwise commit any act or omission in violation of a Federal consumer
financial law. 12 U.S.C. 5536(a)(1)(A).
82.

Because Southwest violated Regulation Z in its disclosure of the

APRs for its RALs, Southwest also violated 1036(a)(1)(A) of the CFPA. 12 U.S.C.
5536(a)(1)(A).

21

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COUNT VII
by the Bureau and the Nation against Southwest, Thomas, and Gonzales for
deceptive APR disclosures, in violation of the CFPA
83.

The Bureau and the Nation reallege and incorporate by reference

paragraphs 1-39.
84.

Section 1036(a)(1)(B) of the CFPA prohibits deceptive acts or

practices in connection with the offering or provision of consumer financial


products or services. 12 U.S.C. 5536(a)(1)(B); see also id. 5531(a).
85.

An act or practice is deceptive if it is likely to mislead customers

acting reasonably under the circumstances and the representation was material.
86.

Because Southwest failed to state that the APRs were based on

estimates and used an inappropriate loan-term estimate, Southwests APR


disclosures were substantially understated and therefore misleading as to the
cost of credit.
87.

These representations about the cost of credit were material.

88.

As a result, Southwests misleading APR disclosures constitute

deceptive acts or practices in violation of 1031(a) and 1036(a)(1)(B) of the


CFPA, 12 U.S.C. 5531(a), 5536(a)(1)(B).
89.

Thomas played a key role in determining the APR disclosures for

the RALs.

22

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90.

Gonzales had the authority to control Southwests activities and

operations, and knew or should have known about the companys RAL
disclosures.
91.

Because Thomas and Gonzales are related persons to Southwest,

they are each deemed a covered person under the CFPA. 12 U.S.C. 5481(25).
Thomas and Gonzales are liable for violations of the CFPA.
DEMAND FOR RELIEF
The Bureau and the Nation request that the Court:
a.

permanently enjoin Defendants from committing future violations

of the CFPA and Regulation Z;


b.

award damages or other monetary relief against Defendants;

c.

order Defendants to pay restitution to consumers harmed by their

unlawful conduct;
d.

order disgorgement of ill-gotten revenues against Defendants;

e.

impose civil money penalties against Defendants;

f.

order Defendants to pay the Bureaus and the Nations costs

incurred in connection with prosecuting this action; and


g.

award additional relief as the Court may determine to be just and

proper.

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Respectfully Submitted,
ANTHONY ALEXIS
Enforcement Director
JEFFREY PAUL EHRLICH
Deputy Enforcement Director
NATALIE WILLIAMS
Assistant Litigation Deputy
s/Genessa Stout
GENESSA STOUT (Federal Bar No. 15-85)
LAWRENCE D. BROWN
Enforcement Attorneys
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
1700 G Street, NW
Washington, DC 20552
Telephone: 202-435-7290 (Stout)
Telephone: 202-435-7116 (Brown)
Facsimile: 202-435-7722
e-mail: genessa.stout@cfpb.gov
e-mail: lawrence.brown@cfpb.gov
s/Paul Spruhan
HARRISON TSOSIE, Attorney General
PAUL SPRUHAN, Assistant Attorney General
(NM Bar No. 12513)
Navajo Nation Department of Justice
P.O. Box 2010
Window Rock, AZ 86515
Telephone: 928-871-6937
Facsimile: 928-871-6177
e-mail: pspruhan@nndoj.org

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Case 1:15-cv-00299 Document 2-1 Filed 04/14/15 Page 1 of 15

IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT


DISTRICT OF NEW MEXICO
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
and Navajo Nation,

Civil Action No. 15-cv-00299

Plaintiffs,
v.
S/W Tax Loans, Inc. formerly d/b/a
Fast Refund Loans, Inc.; J Thomas
Development of NM, Inc. formerly
d/b/a H&R Block; Dennis R. Gonzales;
and Jeffrey Scott Thomas,
Defendants.
STIPULATED FINAL JUDGMENT AND ORDER
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (Bureau) and the Navajo
Nation (Nation) commenced this civil action on April 14, 2015 to obtain
injunctive relief, monetary relief, civil monetary penalties, and other relief from
S/W Tax Loans, Inc. formerly d/b/a Fast Refund Loans, Inc.; J Thomas
Development of NM, Inc. formerly d/b/a H&R Block; Dennis R. Gonzales; and
Jeffrey Scott Thomas (collectively, Defendants). The Complaint alleges
violations of the Truth In Lending Act (TILA) and its implementing
regulations, 12 U.S.C. 1601 et seq., 12 C.F.R. pt. 1026, and the Consumer
Financial Protection Act of 2010 (CFPA), 12 U.S.C. 5531, 5536(a)(1), in

Case 1:15-cv-00299 Document 2-1 Filed 04/14/15 Page 2 of 15

connection with Defendants offering, provision, and facilitation of loans issued


to consumers based on the consumers anticipated tax refunds.
The Parties, by and through their respective counsel, request that the Court
enter this Stipulated Final Judgment and Order (Order). Defendants have
waived service of the Summons and Complaint.
The parties having requested the Court to enter this Order, it is therefore
ORDERED, ADJUDGED, and DECREED as follows:
INTRODUCTION
1.

The Court has jurisdiction over the parties and the subject matter of

this action.
2.

Venue in this District is proper.

3.

The Complaint states claims upon which relief may be granted

under 12 U.S.C. 5531 and 5536 and the Truth in Lending Act, as implemented
by 12 C.F.R. 1026.17. The relief provided in this order is appropriate and
available under 12 U.S.C. 5564 and 5565.
4.

The Parties agree to the entry of this Order, without adjudication of

any issue of fact or law, to settle and resolve all matters in this dispute arising
from the conduct alleged in the Complaint to the date of entry of this Order.

Case 1:15-cv-00299 Document 2-1 Filed 04/14/15 Page 3 of 15

5.

The Defendants neither admit nor deny any allegations in the

Complaint, except as specifically stated in this Order. For purposes of this Order,
the Defendants admit to the facts necessary to establish the Courts jurisdiction
over the Defendants and the subject matter of this action.
6.

The Defendants waive all rights to seek judicial review or otherwise

challenge or contest the validity of this Order. The Defendants also waive any
claim they may have under the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. 2412,
concerning the prosecution of this action. Each party will bear its own costs and
expenses, including without limitation attorneys fees.
7.

Entry of this Order is in the public interest.


DEFINITIONS

The following definitions apply to this Order:


8.

Affected Consumer means any consumer who received a Refund

Anticipation Loan from Southwest from January 1, 2011 through the Effective
Date.
9.

Corporate Defendants means, individually or collectively,

Southwest, J Thomas Development of NM, Inc. formerly d/b/a H&R Block, and
their successors or assigns.

Case 1:15-cv-00299 Document 2-1 Filed 04/14/15 Page 4 of 15

10.

Defendants means the Corporate Defendants and the Individual

Defendants, individually, collectively, or in any combination.


11.

Effective Date means the date that this Order is entered by this

Court.
12.

Enforcement Director means the Assistant Director of the Office

of Enforcement for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or his delegate.


13.

Individual Defendants means, individually or collectively,

Jeffrey Scott Thomas and Dennis R. Gonzales.


14.

Refund Anticipation Loan means any loan product or extension

of credit that is secured by or based upon a consumers anticipated tax refund.


15.

Related Consumer Action means a private action by or on behalf

of one or more consumers or an enforcement action by another government


agency brought against Defendants based on substantially the same facts as
described in the Complaint.
16.

Relevant Period means the period from January 1, 2011 through

the Effective Date.


17.

Southwest means S/W Tax Loans, Inc. formerly d/b/a Fast

Refund Loans, Inc., and its successors and assigns.

Case 1:15-cv-00299 Document 2-1 Filed 04/14/15 Page 5 of 15

ORDER
A.

Conduct Provision
18.

For 5 years from the Effective Date, the Individual Defendants are

restrained and enjoined from (1) offering, marketing, selling, or providing any
Refund Anticipation Loan, (2) assisting any person in offering, marketing,
selling, or providing any Refund Anticipation Loan, and (3) receiving any
monies or consideration from, financing, holding any ownership interest in,
providing services to, or working in any capacity for any person engaged in the
offering, marketing, selling, or provision of Refund Anticipation Loans.
19.

The Corporate Defendants are permanently restrained and enjoined

from (1) offering, marketing, selling, or providing any Refund Anticipation Loan,
(2) assisting any person in offering, marketing, selling, or providing any Refund
Anticipation Loan, and (3) receiving any monies or consideration from,
financing, holding any ownership interest in, providing services to, or working
in any capacity for any person engaged in the offering, marketing, selling, or
provision of Refund Anticipation Loans.
20.

Defendants will provide all birth certificates, social-security cards,

and other identification documents of Affected Consumers that are in


Defendants possession, custody, or control to the Bureau or its delegate within

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15 days of the Effective Date so that the documents may be returned to the
Affected Consumers. Defendants must certify to the Bureau that they have
complied with this paragraph within 20 days of the Effective Date.
B.

Consumer Information
21.

Defendants and their officers, agents, servants, employees, and

attorneys who receive actual notice of this Order, whether acting directly or
indirectly, may not disclose, use, or benefit from customer information, including
the name, address, telephone number, email address, social-security number,
other identifying information, or any data that enables access to a customers
account (including a credit card, bank account, or other financial account), that
the Defendants obtained before the Effective Date relating to a consumer who
applied for or took out a Refund Anticipation Loan from Southwest. But
consumer information may be disclosed if requested by the Bureau, the Nation,
or the Court.
C.

Redress
22.

A judgment for equitable monetary relief is entered in favor of the

Bureau and against Defendants, jointly and severally, in the amount of $254,267.
This amount is in recognition of the fact that Defendants have already paid
$183,733 in remediation to Affected Consumers.

Case 1:15-cv-00299 Document 2-1 Filed 04/14/15 Page 7 of 15

23.

Within 10 days of the Effective Date, Defendants must pay $254,267,

by wire transfer, to the Bureau or the Bureaus agent according to the Bureaus
wiring instructions, in full satisfaction of the judgment as set forth in 22.
24.

Any funds received by the Bureau in satisfaction of this judgment

will be deposited into a fund or funds administered by the Bureau or to the


Bureaus agent according to applicable statutes and regulations to be used for
redress for Affected Consumers, including but not limited to refund of moneys,
restitution, damages, or other monetary relief, and for any attendant expenses for
the administration of any such redress.
25.

If the Bureau determines, in its sole discretion, that redress to

consumers is wholly or partially impracticable or if funds remain after redress is


completed, the Bureau may apply any remaining funds for such other equitable
relief (including consumer-information remedies) as it determines to be
reasonably related to the violations described in the Complaint. Any funds not
used for such equitable relief will be deposited in the U.S. Treasury as
disgorgement. The Defendants will have no right to challenge any actions that
the Bureau or its representatives may take under this paragraph. Redress
provided under this section does not limit consumers rights in any way.

Case 1:15-cv-00299 Document 2-1 Filed 04/14/15 Page 8 of 15

D.

Civil Money Penalties


26.

Under 1055(c) of the CFPA, 12 U.S.C. 5565(c), by reason of the

violations of law alleged in the Complaint, Defendants, jointly and severally,


must pay a civil money penalty of $438,000 to the Bureau.
27.

Within 10 days of the Effective Date, the Defendants must pay the

civil money penalty by wire transfer to the Bureau or to the Bureaus agent in
compliance with the Bureaus wiring instructions.
28.

The civil money penalty paid under this Order will be deposited in

the Civil Penalty Fund of the Bureau, as required by 1017(d) of the CFPA, 12
U.S.C. 5497(d).
29.

The Defendants must treat the civil money penalty paid under this

Order as a penalty paid to the government for all purposes. Regardless of how
the Bureau ultimately uses those funds, the Defendants may not:
a.

Claim, assert, or apply for a tax deduction, tax credit, or any other
tax benefit for any civil money penalty paid under this Order; or

b.

Seek or accept, directly or indirectly, reimbursement or


indemnification from any source, including but not limited to
payment made under any insurance policy, with regard to any civil
money penalty paid under this Order.

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30.

To preserve the deterrent effect of the civil money penalty, in any

Related Consumer Action, the Defendants may not argue that they are entitled
to, nor may the Defendants benefit by, any offset or reduction of any
compensatory monetary remedies imposed in the Related Consumer Action
because of the civil money penalty paid in this action (Penalty Offset). If the
court in any Related Consumer Action grants such a Penalty Offset, the
Defendants must, within 30 days after entry of a final order granting the Penalty
Offset, notify the Bureau, and pay the amount of the Penalty Offset to the U.S.
Treasury. Such a payment will not be considered an additional civil money
penalty and will not change the amount of the civil money penalty imposed in
this action.
E.

Additional Monetary Provisions


31.

In the event of any default on the Defendants obligations to make

payment under this Order, interest, computed under 28 U.S.C. 1961, as


amended, will accrue on any outstanding amounts not paid from the date of
default to the date of payment, and will immediately become due and payable.
32.

The Defendants must relinquish all dominion, control, and title to

the funds paid to the fullest extent permitted by law and no part of the funds
may be returned to the Defendants.

Case 1:15-cv-00299 Document 2-1 Filed 04/14/15 Page 10 of 15

33.

Under 31 U.S.C. 7701, the Defendants, unless they already have

done so, must furnish to the Bureau their respective taxpayer-identifying


numbers, which may be used for purposes of collecting and reporting on any
delinquent amount arising out of this Order.
34.

Within 30 days of the entry of a final judgment, consent order, or

settlement in a Related Consumer Action, the Defendants must notify the


Enforcement Director of the final judgment, consent order, or settlement in
writing. That notification must indicate the amount of redress, if any, that the
Defendants paid or are required to pay to consumers and describe the consumers
or classes of consumers to whom that redress has been or will be paid.
35.

Under 604(a)(1) of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, 15 U.S.C.

1681b(a)(1), the Bureau may obtain from any consumer reporting agency a
consumer report concerning any Defendant. The Bureau may use any such
report to collect on and report any amount not paid as required by this Consent
Order.
F.

Reporting Requirements
36.

For 5 years from the Effective Date, the Defendants must notify the

Bureau of any development that may affect compliance obligations arising under
this Order, including but not limited to a dissolution, assignment, sale, merger,

10

Case 1:15-cv-00299 Document 2-1 Filed 04/14/15 Page 11 of 15

or other action that would result in the emergence of a successor company; the
creation or dissolution of a subsidiary, parent, or affiliate that engages in any acts
or practices subject to this Order; the filing of any bankruptcy or insolvency
proceeding by or against any of the Defendants; or a change in the Defendants
names or addresses. The Defendants must provide this notice at least 30 days
before the development or as soon as practicable after the learning about the
development, whichever is sooner.
37.

Within 7 days of the Effective Date, the Defendants must:

a.

Designate at least one telephone number and email, physical, and


postal address as points of contact, which the Bureau may use to
communicate with all of the Defendants;

b.

Identify all businesses for which any of the Defendants are the
majority owner, or that any of the Defendants directly or indirectly
controls, by all of their names, telephone numbers, and physical,
postal, email, and Internet addresses;

c.

Describe the activities of each such business, including the products


and services offered, and the means of advertising, marketing, and
sales.

11

Case 1:15-cv-00299 Document 2-1 Filed 04/14/15 Page 12 of 15

d.

Identify the telephone numbers and all email, Internet, physical, and
postal addresses, including all residences, of the Individual
Defendants;

e.

Describe in detail the Individual Defendants involvement in any


business for which either Defendant performs services in any
capacity or which he wholly or partially owns, including each
Defendants title, role, responsibilities, participation, authority,
control, and ownership.

G.

Recordkeeping
38.

The Defendants must create and maintain for at least 5 years from

the Effective Date all documents and records necessary to demonstrate full
compliance with each provision of this Order, including all submissions to the
Bureau or to the Nation.
H.

Notices
39.

Unless otherwise directed in writing by the Bureau, the Defendants

must provide all submissions, requests, communications, or other documents


relating to this Order in writing, with the subject line, CFPB, Navajo Nation v.
S/W Tax Loans, Inc., J Thomas Development of NM, Inc., Jeffrey Scott Thomas,

12

Case 1:15-cv-00299 Document 2-1 Filed 04/14/15 Page 13 of 15

and Dennis Gonzales, Case No. [the number assigned to this matter by the U.S.
District Court for the District of New Mexico] and send them either:
By overnight courier (not the U.S. Postal Service), as follows:
Assistant Director for Enforcement
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
ATTENTION: Office of Enforcement
1625 Eye Street, N.W.
Washington DC 20006; or
By first-class mail to the below address and contemporaneously by
email to Enforcement_Compliance@cfpb.gov:
Assistant Director for Enforcement
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
ATTENTION: Office of Enforcement
1700 G Street, N.W.
Washington DC 20552
I.

Cooperation with the Bureau and the Nation


40.

The Defendants must cooperate fully to help the Bureau or the

Nation determine the identity and location of, and the amount of injury
sustained by, each Affected Consumer. The Defendants must provide such
information in its or its agents possession or control within 14 days of receiving
a written request from the Bureau or the Nation.
41.

For 5 years from the Effective Date, the Defendants must cooperate

fully with the Bureau and the Nation in this matter and in any investigation

13

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related to or associated with the conduct described in the Complaint. The


Defendants must provide truthful and complete information, evidence, and
testimony. Defendants must appear for interviews, discovery, hearings, trials,
and any other proceedings that the Bureau or the Nation may reasonably request
upon reasonable notice, at such places and times as the Bureau or the Nation
may designate, without the service of compulsory process.
J.

Compliance Monitoring
42.

Within 14 days of receipt of a written request from the Bureau or the

Nation, the Defendants must submit compliance reports or other requested


information, which must be made under penalty of perjury; provide sworn
testimony; or produce documents.
43.

For purposes of this section, the Bureau or the Nation may

communicate directly with the Defendants, unless the Defendants retain counsel
related to these communications.
44.

The Defendants must permit Bureau or Nation representatives to

interview any employee or other person affiliated with the Defendants who have
agreed to such an interview. The person interviewed may have counsel present.
45.

Nothing in this Order will limit the Bureaus lawful use of civil

investigative demands under 12 C.F.R. 1080.6 or other compulsory process.

14

Case 1:15-cv-00299 Document 2-1 Filed 04/14/15 Page 15 of 15

K.

Release
46.

The Bureau and the Nation release and discharge the Defendants

from all potential liability for law violations that the Bureau or the Nation has or
might have asserted based on the practices described in the Complaint, to the
extent such practices occurred before the Effective Date and the Bureau or the
Nation knows about them as of the Effective Date. The Bureau may use the
practices described in this Order in future enforcement actions against the
Defendants and their affiliates, including without limitation to establish a pattern
or practice of violations or the continuation of a pattern or practice of violations
or to calculate the amount of any penalty. This release does not preclude or affect
any right of the Bureau or the Nation to determine and ensure compliance with
the Order, or to seek penalties for any violations of the Order.
L.

Retention of Jurisdiction
47.

The Court will retain jurisdiction of this matter for purposes of

construction, modification, and enforcement of this Order.


IT IS SO ORDERED.

Dated this ____ day of ________________, 2015


_______________________________
United States District Court Judge

15