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Senate Confirms Ameriquest Founder as Ambassador

February 10, 2006|Jonathan Peterson | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Roland E. Arnall is heading for Amsterdam.

The Southern California mortgage-lending magnate was confirmed late Wednesday as U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands, 16 days after his Ameriquest Mortgage Co. agreed to pay $325 million to settle allegations of unfair lending practices by regulators in 49 states and the District of Columbia.

The uncontested Senate voice vote brought a peaceful end to a divisive, three-month confirmation process, in which Democrats led by Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.) had insisted that Ameriquest resolve the allegations against it before they would confirm Arnall.

"With Ameriquest's recent settlement with the attorneys general over its mortgage lending practices, Sen. Sarbanes did not object to moving forward on this nomination," said Jesse Jacobs, a spokesman for Sarbanes.

Arnall's loyalists were ebullient at the vote, which came as an anticlimactic finale to a process in which the media-shy billionaire had been subjected to a public grilling. Supporters, including business associates and some civil rights activists, had said throughout the debate that he would be an effective diplomat.

"We are pleased that Mr. Arnall's nomination to be the ambassador to the Netherlands has been confirmed by the United States Senate," Adam J. Bass, Ameriquest's vice chairman and a nephew of Arnall, said in a statement Thursday. "We take great pride in knowing that our company's founder will be representing our country abroad and know he will serve with honor and distinction."

Some of Arnall's critics, however, decried his appointment: "I find it unbelievable that the reward for settling this case is not jail avoidance but being named ambassador to another country by the United States," said Ira Rheingold, general counsel of the National Assn. of Consumer Advocates.

Arnall was not available for comment.

The 66-year-old Holmby Hills resident emerged in recent years as a major Republican financier, directly or indirectly helping raise more than $12 million for President Bush and Republican activities.

Arnall turned Orange-based Ameriquest into a major national lender by tailoring home loans to people with weak credit histories and other problems that limit their options in traditional credit markets. In October, he resigned his positions with the firm to comply with State Department ethics requirements for ambassadors. His wife, Dawn, retained her posts with Ameriquest and its related companies.

While Ameriquest's fortunes soared under Arnall's leadership, complaints that some of its employees engaged in unfair lending practices -- pressuring borrowers to refinance loans with costly terms, for example, or surprising borrowers with unexpected fees at closing -- drew the attention of state regulators.

Under the Jan. 23 settlement, Ameriquest promised to take steps to safeguard consumers.

That deal cleared most of the roadblocks to Arnall's confirmation. Republicans brought the matter up Wednesday night, and with no objection and no debate, Arnall became an ambassador.

Special correspondent Mike Hudson contributed to this report.

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