Thu, Jul 12, 2012 12:38 PM EDT

Wells Fargo and the Justice Department have reached a $175 million settlement agreement over charges that the bank routinely steered black and Latino borrowers into expensive, dangerous subprime home loans throughout the housing bubble. Wells Fargo has been a standout bad actor among banks, both during the subprime lending boom and the recession it spawned. Watchdogs have shown that Wells Fargo [fails to maintain foreclosed properties]( in black and Latino communities with the same care it does in white neighborhoods, leading to further depression of home values and more blight. Its mortgage servicing arm has been at the center of complaints about banks' refusal to work with underwater borrowers, despite massive federal incentives. And it is an industry leader among banks that are [launching their own versions of payday loans](, which are such significant debt traps that the Defense Department has identified them as a national security threat and Congress has barred lenders from making them to servicemembers. The Justice Department charges that Wells Fargo, which is the nation's largest originator of home loans, steered tens of thousands of black and Latino borrowers into more expensive loans, while white borrowers with the same credit profile received prime loans. Research has shown that black communities around the country lost hundreds of millions of dollars in wealth during the foreclosure crisis, widening the racial wealth gap to historic proportions.