Mexican immigrants who speak little English. Older adults with memory problems. College students opening their first bank accounts. Small-business owners with several lines of credit.These were some of the customers whom bankers at Wells Fargo, trying to meet steep sales goals and avoid being fired, targeted for unauthorized or unnecessary accounts, according to legal filings and statements from former bank employees.“The analogy I use was that it was like lions hunting zebras,” said Kevin Pham, a former Wells Fargo employee in San Jose, Calif., who saw it happening at the branch where he worked. “They would look for the weakest, the ones that would put up the least resistance.”At a branch in Scottsdale, Ariz., members of a local Native American community would arrive like clockwork every three months with checks for their share of the community’s casino revenue. It was then, said Ricky M. Hansen Jr., a former branch manager there, that some bankers would try to dupe them into opening unnecessary accounts laden with fees.In California, it was people with identification cards issued by Mexican consulates. The absence of a Social Security number made it simpler for Wells Fargo employees to open fraudulent accounts in those customers’ names. Wells Fargo is one of the few major banks to permit accounts to be opened without Social Security numbers.And in Illinois, one former teller described watching in frustration as older customers fell prey.“We had customers of all ages, but the elderly ones would at times be targeted, because they don’t ask many questions about fees and such,” Brandi Baker, who worked at a branch in Galesburg, Ill., said in an interview.
Friday, October 21, 2016
Wednesday, October 12, 2016
The Supreme Court agreed on Tuesday to decide whether high-ranking George W. Bush administration officials — including John Ashcroft, the former attorney general, and Robert S. Mueller III, the former F.B.I. director — may be held liable for policies adopted after the Sept. 11 attacks.
The case began as a class action in 2002 filed by immigrants, most of them Muslim, over policies and practices that swept hundreds of people into the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn on immigration violations in the weeks after the attacks. The plaintiffs said they had been subjected to beatings, humiliating searches and other abuses.The roundups drew criticism from the inspector general of the Justice Department, who in 2003 issued reports saying that the government had made little or no effort to distinguish between genuine suspects and Muslim immigrants with minor visa violations.
In its petition seeking Supreme Court review, the Obama administration urged the justices to put an end to the litigation.“The Court of Appeals concluded,” the petition said, “that the nation’s highest ranking law enforcement officers — a former attorney general of the United States and former director of the F.B.I. — may be subjected to the demands of litigation and potential liability for compensatory and even punitive damages in their individual capacities because they could conceivably have learned about and condoned the allegedly improper ways in which their undisputedly constitutional policies were being implemented by lower-level officials during an unprecedented national security crisis.”
Rachel Meeropol, a lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents the plaintiffs, said the cases, Ashcroft v. Turkmen, No. 15-1359 and two others, involved fundamental principles.“No one is above the law,” she said. “To suggest that the most powerful people in our nation should escape liability when they violate clearly established law defies the most fundamental principle of our legal system.”
Friday, October 7, 2016
One of every 40 American adults cannot vote in November’s election because of state laws that bar people with past felony convictions from casting ballots. Experts say racial disparities in sentencing have had a disproportionate effect on the voting rights of blacks and Hispanics.
A report by the Sentencing Project, a nonprofit organization focused on criminal justice reform, estimates that 6.1 million Americans will not be allowed to vote next month because of these laws.State laws that bar voting vary widely. Three swing states — Florida, Iowa and Virginia — have some of the harshest laws; they impose a lifetime voting ban on felons, although their voting rights can be restored on a case-by-case basis by a governor or a court. On the other end of the spectrum, Maine and Vermont place no restrictions on people with felony convictions, allowing them to vote while incarcerated.
“The message that comes across to them is: Yes, you have all the responsibilities of a citizen now, but you’re basically still a second-class citizen because we are not permitting you to be engaged in the political process," said Christopher Uggen, lead author of the report and a professor at the University of Minnesota.
And the fact that the states in question with the highest disenfranchisement rates, and with the most onerous conditions for voting reinstatement, also have the highest minority and poor populations is beyond mere correlation. Simply put, voting disenfranchisement is the Poll Tax's ugly stepchild.
African American disenfranchisement rates in Kentucky,Tennessee, and Virginia now exceed 20 percent of the adult voting age population. Whereas only 9 states disenfranchised at least 5 percent of their African American adult citizens in 1980, 23 states do so today.It's a grim reminder that despite all the punishment reform happy talk, more than 6 million of our fellow citizens will be denied participation in the election coming up in November. And while it's trendy and hip to claim political alienation, or "disgust with both parties," or "there ain't a dime's worth of difference between any of them," voter apathy is still fundamentally a choice.
Imagine wanting to participate in the electoral process and simply NOT being allowed to. Your ironic "disgruntlement" might look rather silly in comparison.
Tuesday, September 27, 2016
Check the inflammatory headline in the Times today:
U.S. Murders Surged in 2015.
The country’s murder rate jumped more last year than it had in nearly half a century, newly released federal crime data showed, although the number of homicides remained far below the levels of the 1980s and ’90s.
The data, part of an annual report released on Monday by the F.B.I., showed that the murder rate rose 10.8 percent across the United States in 2015, part of a nearly 4 percent increase in violent crime.Fueling the surge in murders was street violence in a handful of major cities, notably Baltimore, Chicago, St. Louis, Washington, D.C., and Milwaukee, where most of the victims were young African-American males. The F.B.I. reported that guns were used in nearly three-quarters of the nation’s 15,696 murders during 2015.
The murder rate last year was far below the levels of 30 to 40 years ago, when violent crime, fueled partly by gang violence during the crack cocaine epidemic, reached a peak. The overall 3.9 percent increase in violent crime in 2015 was lower than levels from five and 10 years ago, the F.B.I. said.“It is important to remember that while crime did increase over all last year, 2015 still represented the third-lowest year for violent crime in the past two decades,” Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch said Monday.By contrast, property crimes fell 2.6 percent in 2015, according to the F.B.I. data.
As always, go to the horse's mouth for the facts: Crime in the United States, 2015
UPDATE: Here's a good analysis on why "whether crime is up or down" is a matter of interpretation with official statistics.
Tuesday, September 20, 2016
The chief executive of Wells Fargo — where bankers opened secret and unauthorized credit card and deposit accounts for customers for at least five years in an attempt to meet sales goals — told a Senate panel Tuesday morning that the illegal activity might have gone on even longer and that no senior executives had been fired as a result.
Senators on both sides of the aisle expressed anger and indignation at the chief executive, John G. Stumpf, with several lawmakers calling for him to give back some of his rich compensation.
UPDATE: Rumors of a class-action lawsuit brought by hundreds of the low-level street guys, er, Wells employees who were fired in this, may be coming true.
The bank’s chief executive, John Stumpf, has often stated his goal that each Wells customer should have at least eight accounts with the company. That aggressive target has made the bank’s stock a darling on Wall Street, the lawsuit notes.
On Monday, a federal lawsuit with analogous claims was filed in the United States District Court for the Central District of California, seeking to create a class of current and former Wells employees across the country who had similar experiences.“These are the people who have been left holding the bag,” said Jonathan Delshad, the lawyer representing the workers in both suits. “It was a revolving door. If you weren’t willing to engage in these types of illegal practices, they just booted you out the door and replaced you.”
Thursday, September 15, 2016
Following up on my post last week "Big Bank, Big Criminal," comes another eye-popping coda to the story: the executive in charge of the division where the massive, 5,000+ employee fraud and looting of Wells Fargo's customers (this blog author among them) occurred, will receive more than $125 million in early retirement benefits. For realz.
In connection with the “widespread illegal practices,” Wells Fargo has also fired 5,300 employees and managers, with one notable exception: the executive in charge.Instead of bearing any responsibility for this scandal, Carrie Tolstedt, the divisional senior vice president for community banking who supervised the 6,000 retail branches where the wrongdoing took place, is retiring, taking with her millions in stock and options.Wells Fargo was aware of the problems in the division when Ms. Tolstedt announced her retirement on July 12. The bank’s sales practices have been under regulatory scrutiny since at least November.Further, the bank itself has been working to identify the affected customers and complicit employees.Despite knowing about the widespread misconduct on her watch, Wells Fargo gave Ms. Tolstedt a glowing farewell. John Stumpf, the chief executive, called her a “role model for responsible leadership” and “a standard-bearer of our culture.”
Her compensation — more than $27 million over the last three years — has never been dinged as a result of these problems. Further, Ms. Tolstedt continues to be employed at the bank through the end of the year. She stepped down only from her division role — getting out of the hot seat just weeks before the regulatory settlement was announced.So, as in most banking scandals, lower- and midlevel employees face repercussions, but senior executives are whisked out of harm’s way, with their reputations and full stock awards intact. For Ms. Tolstedt, that could be as much as $125 million.
Friday, September 9, 2016
For years, Wells Fargo employees secretly issued credit cards without a customer’s consent. They created fake email accounts to sign up customers for online banking services. They set up sham accounts that customers learned about only after they started accumulating fees.On Thursday, these illegal banking practices cost Wells Fargo $185 million in fines, including a $100 million penalty from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the largest such penalty the agency has issued.Federal banking regulators said the practices, which date back to 2011, reflected serious flaws in the internal culture and oversight at Wells Fargo, one of the nation’s largest banks. The bank has fired at least 5,300 employees who were involved.In all, Wells Fargo employees opened roughly 1.5 million bank accounts and applied for 565,000 credit cards that may not have been authorized by customers, the regulators said in a news conference. The bank has 40 million retail customers.
Banking regulators said the widespread nature of the illegal behavior showed that the bank lacked the necessary controls and oversight of its employees. Ensuring that large banks have tight controls has been one of the central preoccupations of banking regulators after the mortgage crisis.Wells said the employees who were terminated included managers and other workers. A bank spokeswoman declined to say whether any senior executives had been reprimanded or fired in the scandal.
UPDATE: As this article points out, the most egregious part of the "settlement" is that the sociopath executives who run Wells Fargo didn't even have to admit wrongdoing.
"Classic Wall Street" indeed. Another victory for big bank thugs and the Keystone regulators who enable them.But with its banking regulators, Wells Fargo was not as contrite. The bank agreed to pay $185 million in fines and hire an independent consultant to review its sales practices, but it was able to settle the investigation into the questionable accounts without officially admitting to any of the suspected misconduct.It was classic Wall Street. Since the financial crisis, regulators have brought dozens of cases against banks and other financial firms, hitting them with tens of billions of dollars in fines and requiring the companies to overhaul their business practices. But frequently, regulatory cases are settled without a bank having to admit doing anything wrong.