Complications involving leased vehicles landed GM Financial into actions taken by the Department of Justice.

On Wednesday, the Justice Department announced that GM Financial has agreed to pay more than $3.5 million to resolve allegations that the captive violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) by illegally repossessing 71 servicemembers’ vehicles and by improperly denying or mishandling more than 1,000 vehicle lease termination requests.

In a message sent to Cherokee Media Group, GM Financial said, “GM Financial has been fully cooperative and responsive throughout the investigation opened in 2018 by the Department of Justice into compliance with the Servicemember’s Civil Relief Act.

“As announced (Wednesday) by the Department of Justice, we have reached a settlement agreement regarding processing of a subset of SCRA-protected accounts. Over our 30-year history, GM Financial has maintained a strong track record of fair lending practices and compliance with all regulatory requirements. We remain committed to ensuring the customer experience is handled responsibly, ethically and exceeds the customer’s expectation,” the captive said.

According to a news release, the Justice Department began investigating GM Financial after receiving a complaint about a potential violation involving U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 (CW3) Thomas Gorgeny.

In September 2017, the Justice Department said CW3 Gorgeny received orders to deploy overseas for 10 months and requested that GM Financial allow him to terminate his vehicle lease early pursuant to the SCRA.

Although GM Financial told CW3 Gorgeny that his early termination request was approved and he returned his vehicle to the dealer, months later, while he was deployed overseas, government officials said CW3 Gorgeny received a letter from the captive demanding that he pay more than $15,000 to cover the entire remaining period of the lease, as well as costs associated with the sale of the vehicle.

In a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, the Justice Department alleged that, since 2015, GM Financial has improperly denied servicemembers’ lease termination requests, charged servicemembers improper early termination fees or lease amounts after the date of termination, and failed to provide servicemembers timely refunds of lease amounts they paid in advance.

The Justice Department also alleged that GM Financial’s failure to properly handle servicemembers’ lease termination requests resulted in more than 1,000 SCRA violations.

Furthermore, the complaint also alleged that, since 2015, GM Financial has unlawfully repossessed 71 vehicles owned by SCRA-protected servicemembers.

Officials explained the SCRA is a federal law that provides certain legal and financial protections for servicemembers and their families. The law prevents an auto finance or leasing company from repossessing a servicemember’s vehicle without first obtaining a court order, as long as the servicemember made at least one payment on the vehicle before entering military service.

The SCRA also allows servicemembers to terminate a vehicle lease early after entering military service or receiving certain qualifying military orders. If a servicemember terminates a vehicle lease under the SCRA, the leasing company may not impose any early termination charges and must refund, within 30 days, any rent or lease amounts paid in advance, according to the Justice Department.

Under the consent order, GM Financial has agreed to pay $3,534,171 to the affected servicemembers and a $65,480 civil penalty to the United States.

Officials said GM Financial will pay at least $10,000 to each of the 71 servicemembers who had their vehicles unlawfully repossessed.

For the servicemembers who were charged an improper fee when they terminated their vehicle leases, officials said GM Financial will refund the fee and will pay additional damages of three times the fee or $500, whichever is greater. Servicemembers whose requests to terminate their vehicle leases were improperly denied will receive a refund of certain payments plus up to $5,000 in additional damages, according to the Justice Department.

The order also requires GM Financial to repair the servicemembers’ credit, provide SCRA training to its employees, and implement policies and procedures that comply with the SCRA.

“Members of our Armed Forces should not have to suffer financial hardship as a result of their service to our nation,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

“The Civil Rights Division remains steadfast in its commitment to enforcing laws that safeguard the rights of our servicemembers so that they can devote their energy and attention to the defense of our country,” Clarke continued in the news release.

“The last thing servicemembers should be worried about while deployed is paying off vehicle leases they don’t want and can’t use,” added U.S. Attorney Chad Meacham for the Northern District of Texas. “As members of our armed forces put their lives on the line for our country, we are determined to protect their rights here at home.”