Investigations of "sham" business arrangements in Tulsa, Okla., by the Department of Housing and Urban Development have resulted in two settlements totaling $450,000 for alleged violations of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act.HUD alleged that a Tulsa real estate company, McGraw Davisson Steward, encouraged its agents to form an affiliated business arrangement, or ABA, with a title company as a way to collect referral fees, which are illegal under RESPA. MDS and the title company, Closings of Tulsa, agreed to pay a $325,00 settlement. The other settlement involves 40 homebuilders who agreed to pay $125,000 for allegedly operating a sham ABA that also received referral fees from Closings of Tulsa. Some of the builders are affiliated with MDS. HUD allows ABAs under RESPA, provided that the profits are distributed among the partners based on their ownership interests. It is illegal, however, to distribute profits based on the value or amount of referrals. "RESPA is clear -- while affiliated business arrangements are allowed, using complex arrangements to mask referral fees amounts to a kickback," HUD Assistant Secretary John Weicher said.

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