President Donald Trump's interim director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Mick Mulvaney, began reevaluating the bureau's strategy the moment he took office. In a plan released Monday, Mulvaney said "we have committed to fulfill the Bureau's statutory responsibilities, but go no further" and that the CFPB should be "acting with humility and moderation."
Part of his plan involves dropping a lawsuit the CFPB brought against an alleged online loan shark called Golden Valley Lending.
"People are devastated and angry — just imagine how you would feel if years of your life had been dedicated to pursuing justice and you lose everything," says Christopher Peterson, a former Office of Enforcement attorney at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau who worked on this particular case early on.
Peterson believes that had the lawsuit been pursued and the CFPB won, it could have clawed back money to help thousands of people who have allegedly been hurt by the lender.
Julie Bonenfant was one of the people taken advantage of by Golden Valley Lending at a time she says she was particularly vulnerable:
"I was literally facing eviction because I was so behind on my rent and I had no idea where I was going to come up with the money and it was just really rough," Bonenfant says. "It was just misleading. ... The way it was presented was ... I was going to make four large payments and then be done."
But Golden Valley Lending continued taking money from her checking account after those four payments were completed.
Bonenfant sent NPR a screenshot from the Golden Valley website. It says on her $900 loan, her scheduled payments in less than 12 months will total $3,735, or more than four times what she borrowed.
Bonenfant has so far paid more than $3,000 to Golden Valley and rung up more than $1,000 in overdraft fees at her bank.
When she showed it to her boss, he called the loan's terms "illegal."
CDPB agreed and in April of last year sued Golden Valley Lending for unfair, deceptive and abusive business practices - until Mulvaney came along and dropped the suit.
Contradicting staff at the bureau, Mulvaney's press representative said the interim director had nothing to do with the decision and dropping the lawsuit came at the behest of "professional career staff".
The staffers, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of losing their jobs, say Mulvaney decided to drop the lawsuit even though the entire career enforcement staff wanted to press ahead with it.
Eventually Mulvaney's office admitted the lie:
After repeated questioning from NPR, Mulvaney's press person acknowledged that Mulvaney was indeed involved in the decision to drop the lawsuit.
Mulvaney's decision has left Bonenfant disillusioned.
"To be honest I'm really mad, really pissed, because I actually voted for Trump," Bonenfant says. "So knowing that his guy threw out this case that affects people like me, I feel kind of like stupid — just kind of like betrayed."