Theft of test queries alleged
Colo. mortgage broker who led state board accused of wrongdoing
A prominent Colorado mortgage broker who chaired the state board that regulates loan originators is accused in a lawsuit of stealing test questions used by the national agency that certifies that profession, then repurposing them at a company where he helped people pass the exam.
The State Regulatory Registry alleges that Billy “Bart” Bartholomew swiped questions from the national test it gives to mortgage loan originators while he was a member of a panel of experts that helped evaluate and develop the exams.
Substantially similar questions then appeared on sample tests provided by Bartholomew’s employer, MTI Services Corp., which offers training to people wanting to become mortgage loan originators, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Denver. The questions also appeared on a website affiliated with MTI, the lawsuit says.
Bartholomew is a former president of the Colorado Association of Mortgage Brokers and a former member of Colorado Mortgage Lenders Association’s board of directors. He was appointed to Colorado’s board of mortgage loan originators, which regulates the industry, in 2010 by then Gov. Bill Ritter. Bartholomew held the position until 2014 and served as chairman for part of that time.
Bartholomew did not immediately return messages left for comment on Monday.
The State Regulatory Registry is a part of the Conference of State Bank Supervisors in Washington, an organization of bank regulators from all 50
states, and operates the Nationwide Multistate Licensing System for a variety of financial industries including mortgage loans.
SRR says the test questions are protected by federal copyright laws and that Bartholomew agreed to keep them confidential. It is seeking unspecified damages for copyright infringement. The lawsuit does not say whether any test results were disqualified as a result.
“The estimated cost of replacing these (exams) is very high,” the lawsuit says, “but the potential damage to the integrity of the exam is even higher.”
The lawsuit says Bartholomew’s conduct occurred “in 2017 and in prior years,” but it’s unclear whether that included those in which he oversaw Colorado’s board of mortgage loan originators.
Bartholomew was known as a “subject matter expert” who met with other members of the board’s national test maintenance committee to go over test questions and help develop the exam, which mortgage loan originators are required by federal law to take.
The lawsuit says Bartholomew was caught photographing copies of the test questions from his computer screen during computer virtual-conference meetings to evaluate them. Both times Bartholomew could be heard using his cellphone to take the photos — once while his webcam was inadvertently turned on and others could see him taking the pictures, the lawsuit says.
Bartholomew has been a test consultant at SRR since 2008 and for years has offered training through MTI, where he’s been education director since January.
SRR approved MTI as a “pre-licensure and continuing education” instructor for the exams.
MTI also is named as a defendant, as is another man, Carey Green, whom the lawsuit says operated a website — PasstheSafeExam.com — that offered a separate study course with some questions that were “identical or substantially similar to real SAFE MLO Test questions,” the lawsuit says.
SAFE MLO is the Secure And Fair Enforcement Mortgage Loan Originator test, which was the result of a similarly named law passed by Congress in 2008 after the national financial and real estate meltdowns caused in part by toxic mortgages.
“By now I’m sure you’ve read the allegations, so you’ll understand my surprise at being named in the case at all,” Green said Monday, declining to comment further. On his website, which says it can help consumers pass the national exam the first time, Green said he learned of the problem on April 4, 2017.
“I received a very official sounding letter from the (National Mortgage Licensing System) and its related agencies telling me that they believe my study materials to be a violation of their copyrights,” the website says. “I don’t believe this to be true — at least not intentionally. However — I have no interest in getting into a long and expensive legal battle. It’s just not worth my time.”
He offered refunds to anyone who purchased his program in the 30 days prior to April 4.
MTI’s owner, Don Exley, did not immediately return messages seeking comment.
A spokesman for the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies, which oversees the mortgage loan originator program, declined to comment about the allegations in SSR’s suit.