Supreme Court breathes new life into whistleblower case against Wells Fargo

With a ruling Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court revived a long-running whistleblower lawsuit that accused Wachovia’s investment bank of violating accounting rules and skirting internal controls to pursue short-term profits.

The Supreme Court vacated a judgment in August 2016 by the U.S. Appeals Court for the Second Circuit that had affirmed a lower court’s decision to dismiss the case filed by two whistleblowers, including one who had worked in Charlotte.

The high court ordered the appeals court to give the case further consideration in light of a June 2016 Supreme Court ruling that interpreted an aspect of the federal whistleblower law called the U.S. False Claims Act.

“It has obviously breathed new life into our case, which is very important for everyone involved,” said Joel Androphy, a Houston-based attorney representing the plaintiffs. “This has been a very long road.”

Wells Fargo Fires Managers, Denies Bonuses in Account Probe

  • Bank doesn’t specify what prompted four managers’ termination
  • Board may yet release more information, person familiar says

Wells Fargo & Co. fired the head of its consumer credit-card business and three other senior managers as the bank’s board examines how abusive sales practices spread through branches before spiraling into a national scandal last year.

Shelley Freeman, the former Los Angeles regional president who went on to run consumer-credit solutions, was terminated, along with Arizona lead regional president Pam Conboy, former community bank risk chief Claudia Russ Anderson and Matthew Raphaelson, 55, who led community bank strategy and initiatives. The bank announced the moves in a statementTuesday, saying the four won’t get bonuses for 2016 and will forfeit unvested equity awards and outstanding options.

Read on.

In solidarity with Standing Rock, Santa Monica, CA moves forward to cut ties with Wells Fargo

In a show of support to activists protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline, the Santa Monica City Council moved forward with plans to end the City’s banking relationship with Wells Fargo bank.

The City currently has $1 billion in annual transactions with the bank, including deposits and payments, according to spokeswoman Constance Farrell. Santa Monica’s investment portfolio includes $4.6 million in Wells Fargo bonds.

During a midnight discussion and a lengthy public comment period, Mayor Ted Winterer reminded supporters of the divestment that applause is forbidden at City Council meetings, so when five out of seven members voted to move forward with the motion a wave of jazz hands shot up into the air – a vigorous sign of approval from attendees who pushed for the motion into the early morning hours.

“I’ve been to Standing Rock twice. I was on the frontline every time. It made me very angry to see my people treated in such a manner,” said Walter Ruiz, also known as Graywolf. Ruiz was one of 25 activists who spoke to support cutting ties with Wells Fargo. He runs the Chumash Indian Museum in Thousand Oaks.

Read on.

Court: CFPB Has Authority To Request Seven Years’ Worth Of Foreclosure Documents

Back in November, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau filed a lawsuit against one of the nation’s largest providers of seller-financed homes after it failed to comply with a subpoena to turn over documents related to home foreclosures. This week, a judge upheld the Bureau’s authority to request the documents from Harbour Portfolio Advisors. 

A Federal District Court in Detroit issued a 12-page decision [PDF] directing Dallas-based Harbour Portfolio Advisors to comply with the CFPB’s request for documents and other information related to its investigating into housing finance.

The case against Harbour began back in Sept. 2016 when the CFPB began looking into whether financing offered by the company and others like it — referred to as an “Agreement for Deed” — were in violation of federal leading laws.

An Agreement for Deed is a written agreement to purchase a residential property, where the seller agrees to deliver a deed to the purchaser upon full payment of the purchase price.

This so-called rent-to-own policy, the New York Times reports, became popular during the housing crisis when it was difficult for consumers to obtain mortgages and alternative lenders stepped in to fill the gaps.

Harbour Portfolio bought nearly 7,000 properties from Fannie Mae after the housing crisis, paying roughly $10,000 or less for each, the New York Times found in an investigation. The company then turned around and sold the properties “as is” at a rate four or five times higher than the purchase price.

Read on.

Wells Fargo to oppose nuns on review resolution: document

The board of Wells Fargo & Co plans to oppose a resolution filed by shareholder activists led by the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia seeking a review of the root causes of the bank’s unauthorized accounts scandal, according to a draft document seen by Reuters.

The draft dated Feb. 10 states the board’s position on the measure, to be included in its forthcoming proxy for this year’s springtime shareholder meeting, is that because the bank has its own investigation and reforms under way, the concerns raised by the proposal are being addressed.

According to the document, “our Board and our Company believe we are already providing through our current and anticipated future disclosures…the information requested by this proposal.”

An ongoing disagreement over the resolution could complicate the bank’s drive to regain shareholder confidence.

Read on.

Wells Fargo whistle-blower finds vindication — 14 years later

“I’ve been vindicated,” Ian Minto quietly told himself.

It was late September last year. Minto had just heard that then-CEO Wells Fargo John Stumpf stood in front of a Senate panel and apologized for a major scandal that rocked the San Francisco bank. Employees had created up to two million fraudulent accounts in the names of real consumers. Senator after senator blasted Stumpf, many expressing disbelief that Wells Fargo could do such a thing.

If only they had met Minto 15 years ago.

In 2002, Minto was an assistant branch manager at Wells Fargo branch in San Rafael when he started to notice troubling behavior: Some of his employees were signing up unusually large numbers of customers. One particular banker recruited more than two dozen customers in a single day.

Suspicious, Minto discovered the banker listed the same address for those 25 people. So he went to the address. It was a cemetery.

As it turns out, employees were creating fraudulent checking and credit-card accounts so they could hit aggressive sales goals and earn more money.

“You’re not just stealing from the customer, you’re stealing from the shareholders,” Minto told me.

Minto said he reported the fraud to his supervisor, as the bank had taught him.

“He said ‘Don’t worry about it,’” Minto told me. “That’s about as far as it went.”

Not quite. A few months later, the bank fired him for not meeting sales goals. So Minto filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against Wells Fargo. But he lacked the money to pursue the case and ended up settling out of court.

Read on.

JPMorgan moving mortgages online to please paper-weary customers

JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N) is gradually introducing a digital mortgage platform where customers can apply online and track applications by mobile phone.

The tools will allow customers to submit and sign documents online and exchange messages with bank staff and real-estate agents so loans can close more quickly and easily, consumer mortgage chief Mike Weinbach said in an interview.

“This platform will allow us to be where more of our customers are, which is online and on their phones,” Weinbach said. “It is more efficient for customers and for us.”

Read on.