(Philadelphia Inquirer) – About $23 million from a class-action settlement of predatory-lending claims against Ameriquest Mortgage Co. is being distributed among 21,500 residents of New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Ameriquest was the largest supplier of subprime loans to the Philadelphia region in 2005. Checks were sent out in December.

The money is part of a multistate $325 million lending settlement that was reached in January 2006 and that resolved allegations that Ameriquest employees deceived consumers and used high-pressure sales tactics to boost commissions. Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett said in a news release relating to the settlement:

Many of the consumers involved in this case had modest incomes or poor credit, and were forced to pay higher interest rates and larger monthly payments than they had initially been led to believe.

Ameriquest, of Orange, California, stopped taking applications in August, and its parent company sold part of the operation to Citigroup Inc. in September.

Ameriquest, which specialized in refinancing, made 3,437 loans in the eight-county Philadelphia area in 2005 worth $504 million, or 7.6% of the region’s total subprime-mortgage business, according to federal data. In New Jersey, 9,132 borrowers will receive a total of $12.2 million, according to the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General.

The total awarded in Pennsylvania was $10.8 million to 12,401 borrowers. The settlement, which established a $295 million compensation fund, covered 1999 through 2005. Borrowers eligible for payments were notified last summer, and had until September 10th to submit claims.

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