Consumer bureau opens investigations of some large banks

Posted March 25, 2012, at 8:33 p.m.

WASHINGTON — The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has opened investigations into the practices of some large banks, the agency’s director said Friday.

“We do have open matters we’re looking at involving a range of institutions, large banks, smaller banks and nonbanks,” Richard Cordray said in an interview taped for C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers.”

Cordray would not give any details of the investigations, but in the interview with reporters from the Los Angeles Times and Dow Jones Newswires, he said the agency was “active on all fronts.”

Discover Financial Services said in a securities filing in January that Cordray’s agency and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation had notified the company they planned to take enforcement action over the marketing of some services. American Express Co. said in a filing last month that it could face action from the consumer bureau for late fees charged to some credit card customers of its Centurion Bank subsidiary.

The bureau, which began operations in July, has its own examiners at banks and at some financial companies outside the banking industry, such as payday lenders, Cordray said. The examiners are aggressively looking for violations of consumer protection laws.

IRS says it’s auditing more millionaires

LOS ANGELES — Attention, millionaires, the watchful eye of the Internal Revenue Service is trained on you. During last year’s tax season, 30 percent of multimillionaires were audited, the agency said. Overall, just 1.1 percent of individual income tax returns were checked.

Taxpayers making an adjusted gross annual income of $10 million or more are increasingly on the IRS’ radar — in 2010, just 18 percent of them faced audits, according to a report from the agency. Nearly 21 percent of Americans making between $5 million and $10 million had their returns inspected, the IRS said; 12 percent of millionaires making less underwent the same process.

From Oct. 1, 2010, through Sept. 30, 2011, the agency said it collected $2.4 trillion in taxes from 234 million processed returns, up from the $2.3 trillion collected the year before. It was the first year of increased revenue since 2008.

The IRS said more than 133 million tax returns — including more than three-quarters of all individual returns — were filed online. More than eight in 10 individual returns resulted in refunds — a total payout of $338 billion (among all tax returns, nearly $415.9 billion was refunded).

Nearly 4,700 criminal investigations were completed last year, the agency said, with 1,802 resulting in incarcerations.

Nearly 28 million returns, or $281.2 million in gross collections, came from California — the most of any state. Nearly 13.9 million refunds, or $47 million, went to taxpayers.

Pope skirts politics, urges Mexicans to seek pure heart

MEXICO CITY — Pope Benedict XVI donned a sombrero Sunday and stayed away from politics in his first open-air Mass in Latin America, urging Roman Catholics in Mexico to seek a pure heart and avoid “superficial and routine temptation.”

A crowd estimated by the quasi-official Notimex news agency at 400,000 people gathered under a blazing sun for the Mass in Guanajuato state.

On the third day of a six-day trip that also will take him to Cuba, the pontiff only tangentially touched on the violence roiling Mexico, saying he was aware of the “moments of both pain and hope” coursing through the region’s people.

Mustering strength limited by his age but walking without a cane, the 84-year-old Benedict sought to uplift Mexicans, saying the power of Christ is based on the ability to reach out to people’s hearts, not in the power of armies “to make others submit to force or violence.”

Before the homily, Archbishop Jose Martin Rabago of Leon told the pontiff that Mexicans have passed through years “of violence and death that have generated a feeling of fear.”

Enthusiasm for Benedict’s visit was low before his arrival. But excitement grew with wall-to-wall television coverage, building even to rapturous levels.

Toulouse gunman’s brother charged with complicity in connection with murders

PARIS — Abdelkader Merah, the older brother of Toulouse gunman Mohamed Merah, was charged Sunday with complicity in murder and theft conspiracy to prepare acts of terrorism, French media reports said.

Abdelkader Merah, who has been placed in custody, denies the charges.

The 29-year-old brother of the Islamist gunman who admitted to shooting dead seven people in the Toulouse area before being killed in a shootout with police Thursday was taken before anti-terrorism judges Sunday and placed in custody.

The Paris prosecutor’s office said police had established “serious or corresponding clues” showing Abdelkader Merah was a “probable” accomplice in the killings of three paratroopers, a rabbi and three children.

His court-appointed lawyer Anne-Sophie Laguens told reporters Abdelkader Merah was “not at all proud” of his brother’s acts as media reports citing unnamed investigators had claimed.

Her client “strongly condemns” his brother’s actions and “hopes he does not become the scapegoat for his brother’s acts,” she said.

His wife, who was detained with him on Wednesday, was released without charge early Sunday. The Merahs’ mother was released in Toulouse on Friday, also without charge.

Quake hits central Chile; no reports of casualties

SANTIAGO, Chile — A magnitude-7.2 earthquake struck central Chile Sunday night, the strongest and longest that many people said they had felt since the huge quake that devastated the area two years ago. There were no immediate reports of casualties or major damage.

The quake struck 20 miles northwest of Talca, where residents said it lasted about a minute.

People living along a long stretch of Chile’s central coast were briefly warned to head for higher ground. Residents were particularly alarmed in Constitucion, where much of the coastal downtown at the mouth of a river was obliterated by the tsunami caused by the 2010 quake.

The quake occurred 19 miles deep. The epicenter was 133 miles north of Concepcion, and 134 miles south of the capital, Santiago.

It was the second significant quake in as many days for central Chile. Residents of Santiago were shaken awake Saturday morning by a 5.1-magnitude temblor that caused no major damage or injuries even though its epicenter was in metropolitan Santiago.

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