AIME founder's lewd comments divide mortgage industry

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Court documents confirm the founder of the mortgage broker group Association of Independent Mortgage Experts, Anthony Casa, was sued by a professional competitor's wife after he made sexual comments about her in a text exchange with her husband and others.

The incident is drawing mixed reactions from mortgage lenders, some of whom are suspending their ties to AIME, while others continue their support.

Casa recently posted a video apology on LinkedIn for making remarks about Quicken Loans executive Austin Niemiec's wife Theresa while the two men and others were sparring via text.

Theresa Niemiec's defamation lawsuit, filed in Michigan's Circuit Court for the County of Oakland, calls for such an apology, in addition to compensatory damages in excess of $25,000, exemplary damages in excess of $25,000, and interest, costs and attorneys' fees. The court documents also request a jury trial and "such other and further relief as appropriate."

The suit is based on information Casa distributed to industry contacts that "falsely attributes sexual acts supposedly performed by Mrs. Niemiec involving [United Wholesale Mortgage CEO Mat] Ishbia and falsely portray Mrs. Niemiec as promiscuous and having a lack of chastity and faithfulness."

Quicken has declined to comment.

UWM has issued a statement indicating it has "reviewed the disturbing comments made by Mr. Casa and does not condone this type of behavior."

The incident and its fallout expose long-held alliances and rivalries of the parties involved.

Casa's AIME has enjoyed the support of Ishbia and UWM since its founding. UWM and Quicken, both nonbanks based in Michigan, compete for business. And Casa has been a vocal critic of Quicken for many years, given his opposition to lenders that create customer competition for brokers, which Quicken does by offering multiple loan channels.

But even AIME moved to distance itself from Casa after the suit came to light.

AIME President Marc Summers posted a statement on Facebook calling Casa's statements "inexcusable." He added that he "can reassure all members and sponsors are not views that the AIME team supports.

"AIME is committed to being accountable for actions made by our representatives inside and outside of our organization. Any loss of credibility is a loss to the channel and is taken seriously and without bias. We are focused on serving the 40,000 members of AIME, the growth of the channel and opening the dialogue to have candid conversations about how we can be better together," Summers said.

Paramount Residential Mortgage Group Inc. also released a statement about the incident. While not a party to the suit, PRMG Inc. was mentioned in the filing, since its chief lending officer, Kevin Peranio was looped in on the salacious videos and texts.

PRMG's "owners, officers and leadership do not condone, support or tolerate any form of misogyny, sexism or bullying," the statement said.

PRMG Founder and CEO Paul Rozo also released a statement, saying he "was disturbed by the contents of the complaint filed against Mr. Casa. PRMG and Kevin Peranio stand with the victim in this case, Mrs. Niemiec, as no woman should be subjected to such behavior in or out of the workplace."

The company is taking a "wait and see" approach on continuing its title sponsorship of AIME, Rozo said in an interview.

"At this point in time I don't feel that abandoning the 40,000 members of AIME is the right thing to do," he said. "There have been others that have abandoned the sponsorship of AIME at this point but I'm not necessarily going to follow them off the ledge."

"Why throw the baby out with the bathwater?" Rozo added. "I reserve the right to express my disappointment and be appalled by what he did without abandoning my support for the brokers."

Casa's apology received hundreds of supportive comments on LinkedIn but Rozo said he is waiting to see what the thousands of others in AIME have to say.

"There's a minority within the group that is speaking out on behalf of Anthony but there are roughly 39,750 people who have yet to comment because they are waiting to see how AIME as an organization will respond and what further actions and behaviors Anthony Casa demonstrates," Rozo said.

At 40,000, AIME's mortgage brokers make up a sizable portion of the broker ecosystem but a smaller share of the overall market. There were 581,094 mortgage loan officers listed on the Nationwide Mortgage Licensing System and Registry in 2019. Mortgage brokers’ share of the main conventional and conforming market last year was 16%, according to CoreLogic.

Mortgage companies that have suspended their business relationships with AIME in response to Casa's comments include Flagstar Bank, which like Quicken and UWM, is based in Southeast Michigan.

"While we strongly support the broker community and the vision and purpose of AIME, we do not in any way support the recent public words and behavior of its chairman," Flagstar said in a statement.

Plaza Home Loans in California also suspended a business relationship with AIME in response to Casa's remarks.

"As a result of the indefensible behavior of AIME's chairman, Plaza Home Mortgage has decided to suspend its sponsorship with AIME … Although Plaza fully supports the mission of AIME and its members, we cannot sponsor the organization under its current leadership structure," the company said in an email.

AIME's executive vice president of strategy, Katie Sweeney, said in a statement on Facebook that she expected there to be mixed reactions to Casa’s remarks and apology, and that she has had some herself.

"He has been combative. He has picked verbal arguments. Some will have a difficult time showing Anthony grace. Many will blindly support him," Sweeney said.

"There is a broader conversation that is long overdue about the many changes that still need to be made in the industry as a whole to provide a more equitable environment for the women presently and into the future," Sweeney said. "For that conversation to be productive we must both hold people accountable and also allow them to take responsibility."

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