A St. Petersburg-based mortgage broker accused of trying to dupe veterans and active military has been fined $7.5 million by the Federal Trade Commission.
The commission says Mortgage Investors Corporation, a leading refinancer of veterans' home loans, agreed to the civil penalty after being accused of placing more than five million telemarketing calls to numbers on the national Do Not Call registry. An FTC spokeswoman said the calls were placed over the past two and a half years.
The FTC says telemarketers for the Florida-based company also tried to mislead service members to believe that low interest, fixed-rate mortgages were available at no cost.
FTC spokeswoman Dama Brown said the company denied any wrongdoing and settled the case.
"The company has denied wrongdoing but for purposes of resolving the FTC's claims, they voluntarily agreed to a settlement with us without making any admissions of liability," Brown said.
The FTC announced the penalty on the 10-year anniversary of the registry, which bars telemarketers from calling numbers on the list.
The $7.5 million penalty is the largest ever levied for Do Not Call violations.
"Since the advent of Do Not Call, the FTC has been aggressive in cracking down on violators and preventing annoying, illegal calls to consumers," FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said in a statement. "Today's settlements leave no doubt that DNC enforcement remains a top priority."
Records show that as of February of this year, Mortgage Investors Corporation was owned by Bill Edwards, a high-profile St. Petersburg businessman, investor, and philanthropist. Edwards is known for purchasing the ailing Baywalk in September 2011 for $5.2 million, and he owns the Club at Treasure Island.
Edwards also took over management of the struggling Mahaffey Theater in April of 2011, and has donated millions to All Children's Hospital, among other charities and civic causes.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.