WASHINGTON – Fourteen senators are calling on the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation of Wells Fargo executives after revelations that bank employees opened millions of fake banks and credit card accounts.
A bank teller who steals bills from a cash drawer is likely to face charges, the senators said in a statement, but “an executive who oversees a massive fraud that implicates thousands of bank employees and costs customers millions of dollars can walk away with a hefty retirement package and millions in the bank.”
House and Senate hearings last month with Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf “raised serious questions” that point to possible wrongdoing by Stumpf and other high-ranking executive, said the senators, all but one of them Democrats.
U.S. and California regulators have fined San Francisco-based Wells Fargo $185 million, saying bank employees trying to meet aggressive sales targets opened up to 2 million fake deposit and credit card accounts in customers’ names. Regulators said employees issued and activated debit cards and signed people up for online banking without permission. The abuses are said to have gone on for years, unchecked by senior management.
In their letter, the senators urged Attorney General Loretta Lynch to hold Wells Fargo accountable as a corporation and also prosecute individual executives who may have broken the law.
“Every time the Department of Justice settles a case of corporate fraud without holding individuals accountable, it reinforces the notion that the wealthy and powerful have purchased a higher class of justice for themselves,” the senators said.
The letter was led by Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and signed by 12 other Democrats, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Patrick Leahy of Vermont. Warren and Merkley serve on the Senate Banking Committee, while Leahy is senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.
Independent Sen. Angus King of Maine also signed the letter.
In a related development, 11 Democratic senators, including Hirono, Merkley and Warren, signed a separate letter calling on Wells Fargo to comply with laws intended to protect military service members from predatory financial practices.
The Justice Department and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency announced a total of $24.1 million in civil penalties against the company for alleged violations, including failure to honour an interest cap on debts owed by service members.
In a settlement with the Justice Department, the bank is paying $4.1 million to resolve allegations it repossessed 413 cars owned by service members without obtaining court orders.
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