WASHINGTON -- A leading House Democrat said on Wednesday that executives at JPMorgan Chase are responsible for the deaths of soldiers who take their own lives under illegal financial pressure from the bank.
That charge, leveled by Rep. Bob Filner (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, came at the panel's hearing Wednesday on violations of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act by the megabank.
The law limits interest rates that banks can charge soldiers who are deployed abroad at 6 percent, a rule an executive at the hearing admitted the bank has broken.
"People who are under pressure commit suicide. I would call it homicide, frankly, because you are putting them under pressure. You are responsible for that," Filner told Stephanie B. Mudick, a JPMorgan Chase executive vice president of consumer practices.
Mudick didn't directly respond to Filner, but said that JPMorgan would work to correct its mistakes in the future. A JPMorgan Chase spokesman referred HuffPost to her testimony.
The bank also came under fire from committee Republicans. "Our nation's war fighters -- and their families -- should not have to fight to keep their piece of the American Dream while they are on foreign ground defending that fundamental right for all of us," Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) said. "While I am heartened that JPMorgan Chase Bank is attempting to fix these errors with respect to wrongful foreclosures and is refunding over $2.4 million in excessive interest charges, more must be done to ensure that this never happens again. I hope this is a wake-up call for the entire financial services industry."
The thrust of the hearing focused on the difficulty of getting banks to comply with the law, given that the bank has a financial incentive to pay occasional fines rather than strictly adhering to it. Filner made his remark during a discussion about what legal responsibility the bank might have for wrongful deaths.
In 2010, 156 active-duty soldiers committed suicide, down six from the year before. Suicides among soldiers not on active duty jumped from 80 to 145.