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Wells Fargo Account Scam Targeted Undocumented Immigrants, Lawsuit Claims

Employees were instructed to "round up" undocumented day laborers and coax them into opening bank accounts. A bank spokesperson denied it.
Image: Wells Fargo ATM machines in the Port Authority subway station in New York.
People pass by Wells Fargo ATM machines in New York on April 7, 2017.SAM HODGSON / The New York Times via Redux Pictures

Wells Fargo employees were instructed to "round up" immigrants in the country illegally, corral them into a branch office, and cajole them into opening bank accounts, new court filings claim.

In a series of sworn statements filed Wednesday detailing the latest allegations of the embattled bank's account-sales scandal, Wells Fargo employees from multiple states say they were ordered to target undocumented workers at construction sites, factories, and a 7-Eleven.

One branch allegedly instituted a program called "Hit the Streets Thursday," where upper management ordered Latino employees to patrol streets and a local Social Security office to force passersby into branches to open unauthorized accounts, according to a filing by Julia Miller, a former Wells Fargo branch manager in Pennsylvania.

Image: Wells Fargo ATM machines in the Port Authority subway station in New York.
People pass by Wells Fargo ATM machines in New York on April 7, 2017.SAM HODGSON / The New York Times via Redux Pictures

Denny Russo, a former bank teller at Wells Fargo in Petaluma, California, had a similar story — one mirrored by another Wells Fargo employee in Utah.

"When foot traffic was slow, the branch manager on duty instructed Wells Fargo employees of Hispanic heritage to go to a nearby 7-Eleven at 430 Washington St. in Petaluma, a known congregating point for undocumented day laborers," Russo said in his sworn statement.

"Employees were instructed to 'round up' a group of undocumented workers and drive them back to the Wells Fargo branch to open up checking and savings accounts in exchange for 'waiving' check-cashing fees that the day laborers would otherwise have to pay," claimed Russo.

In many cases, the bank's employees would then open up additional accounts such as credit cards, which the customers had not requested — and which generated sales commission for Wells Fargo.

Related: Wells Fargo to Pay $110 Million to Settle Fake Accounts Lawsuit

Ancel Martinez, Wells Fargo’s vice president of corporate communications, denied the allegations brought by the shareholder lawsuit.

"These assertions are offensive, because they run counter to the expectations of Wells Fargo, and would be a violation of policies we have in place to safeguard against abuses," Martinez said. "As to the description that immigrants were pursued in this manner, we have no indication that consular card customers were disparately impacted among the 2 million accounts we analyzed that may have been unauthorized."

Federal regulators require banks have customers present two forms of ID to open an account. The filings did not appear to offer any evidence Wells Fargo skirted this rule.

Martinez added that the bank removed the sales quotas that led to the abuses that have cost bank hundreds of millions of dollars in legal settlements so far.

In the wake of the scandal, the bank changed its sales practices, fired more than 5,000 employees, faced state and federal probes and culled its executive ranks, including now-retired CEO John Stumpf, who is named as a defendant in the shareholders’ suit.

But Mark Molumphy, the attorney for Wells Fargo’s shareholders, said that isn’t enough.

“One of the goals of this lawsuit is to change its management structure – meaning the way it does business,” Molumphy said. “We’re not going to go in and say to the shareholders ‘You have to elect this person’ – we can’t do that, and we’re not asking for that here. What we are asking for is they put in place corporate governance changes so the right hand knows what the left hand’s doing.”

Related: Federal Bank Regulator Faults Itself for Missing Wells Fargo Issues

Molumphy’s brief charges that the bank was first made aware of the problems with Wells Fargo sales practices in 2002, when the bank’s Audit and Examination Committee's quarterly reports first referenced "sales conduct or 'gaming' issues."

"It's not an isolated incident — it's not a single rogue branch," Molumphy said. "This seems to be a pattern of activity that was happening company wide, and with respect to the undocumented workers, specifically, we now know of several different locations in which this was occurring."