When business was slow at its branch in Petaluma, a former Wells Fargo employee said his manager had an unusual solution to meet the bank’s aggressive sales targets.
Latino employees were instructed to round up undocumented immigrants who congregated outside a nearby 7-Eleven store, drive them back to the bank and sign them up for checking and savings accounts, according to a sworn statement by Denny Russo, a former teller at the Wells Fargo branch in Petaluma.
“My colleagues constantly went to and from this location to try to meet their sales goals,” Russo said.
The allegations are contained in a lawsuit filed by Wells Fargo shareholders against the San Francisco bank, which has been rocked by revelations that employees at branches across the United States signed up customers for millions of accounts they never asked for.
The scandal led to the departure of CEO John Stumpf last fall, the firing of thousands of employees and $185 million in fines from regulators. It has also prompted several class-action lawsuits seeking to return millions in executive bonuses.
Bank spokesman Ruben Pulido said the practices described at the Petaluma branch are “offensive, inconsistent with our policies, values, and the relationships we work hard to build with everyone in our community.”
“Make no mistake, those activities have always been against our policies and values,” Pulido said in a statement. “We are confident that our practices and controls to guard against such abuses are stronger than ever. Simply put, activities like those described in the allegations will not be tolerated.”
Shareholder attorneys accuse the bank’s governing board of turning a blind eye to unethical dealings they say raise questions about how the entire industry is run.
“Frankly, this is a shocking case,” said San Francisco attorney and former supervisor Louise Renne, who represents several shareholders. “If this is the way other banks and Wall Street operate, we are all in big trouble.”
Wells Fargo last week sought to have the case dismissed in San Francisco County Superior Court. A judge took the matter under submission.
Shareholders allege executives and board members failed to properly oversee the bank’s practices, including the drastic measures workers felt forced to take to meet onerous goals set by regional managers.
The lawsuits include statements by former employees in California, Utah, Wisconsin and Arizona who detail practices they say they were pushed to use to bring in new customers and open accounts — both legitimate and unauthorized.
Kelsey Hess, who worked at a Wells Fargo branch in a suburb of Salt Lake City, said in her statement that employees were encouraged to go to nearby construction sites, seek out workers there who were in the country illegally, and open unauthorized accounts in their names.
Ricky Hansen Jr., a former Wells Fargo employee in Arizona, said the bank pushed credit card accounts on local Native Americans who went to Wells Fargo branches to cash tribal checks.
“In the weeks following each check-cashing day, the Indian community members would flood the store with complaints about unwanted accounts, debit and credit cards they did not order, overdrafted accounts and account fees for accounts they never requested,” Hansen said in his declaration.
Angela Payden, who worked at a branch in Hudson, Wisconsin, said employees at her branch would drive to a University of Wisconsin campus 12 miles away, sign students up for checking accounts, then open other accounts in students’ names.