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Meridian Appoints Chief Risk Officer Amid Freddie Mac Probe

Brokerage Meridian Capital Group came under scrutiny from Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae earlier this year.

On the heels of probes by Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae and federal regulators, the country’s most active mortgage brokerage is moving to shore up its standards with a new hire. 

Meridian Capital Group has appointed Melissa Martinez, previously at real estate intelligence firm CoreLogic, as its first chief risk officer, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Martinez will help the Manhattan-based brokerage create its own risk and control framework, including measures to ensure the accuracy of financials sent to lenders, potential periodic backtests and possibly even an approval board for deals that reach a certain size.

“If you think about the mortgage broker industry today, there really are no standards,” Martinez told the WSJ. “This will be the very first risk capability that will be stood up within the industry.”

Meridian didn't immediately respond to Bisnow's request for comment. The brokerage, founded by former CEO Ralph Herzka, has been under intense scrutiny since mortgage giant Freddie Mac in the fall launched investigations into loans issued by the brokerage.

By April, both Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae had “effectively blacklisted” the firm after uncovering allegations that some brokers falsified figures in order to secure bigger mortgages for their clients, the WSJ reported. The brokerage’s close relationship with New York Community Bancorp, which sent shockwaves through the market when it appeared near collapse earlier this year, attracted further scrutiny from regulators. 

Martinez’s appointment is the latest leadership shake-up since investigations into Meridian’s business began in November. In early April, New York-based directors Adam Hakim and James Murad moved to Ripco Real Estate. Later in the month, Herzka stepped away from the CEO role and was replaced by Brian Brooks.

Herzka is now senior chairman and said in April at an industry event in New Jersey that the firm expects to rebound from the admittedly challenging period.

“I learned who your friends are and who they aren’t,” Herzka said at the time, according to The Real Deal.

Brooks, a former regulator with stints in several roles at Fannie Mae, has worked with Martinez before, the WSJ reported. The pair, alongside former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, was on a team that took over IndyMac after the bank failed during the 2008 financial crisis. Mnuchin's firm led a $1B investment in NYCB in March to stabilize the lender.

Martinez’s role isn’t the only shift to improve standards at Meridian. The brokerage also introduced a series of policy measures intended to help with fraud detection, the company announced in April.

“We want our brokers to be scrappy and hungry, but we will be checking,” Brooks told the WSJ. “We will cut brokers who cut corners.”