Report: Disgraced Wells Fargo Exec Warned About Employees Opening Fake Accounts In 2006

Image courtesy of Mike Mozart

In an attempt to determine the extent of its massive fake account fiasco, Wells Fargo has agreed to review account histories going back to 2009. However, the bank has already been presented with evidence that employees may have been opening bogus accounts before that, and a new report appears to show that the Wells executive blamed for turning a blind eye to this chicanery was actually warned about fake accounts a decade ago.

Vice has obtained a letter dated Dec. 27, 2005 (but not received until Jan. 2006, according to the certified mail receipt) from a recently retired branch manager in Washington state to Carrie Tolstedt, who was then Wells Fargo’s head of regional banking. Tolstedt would soon go on to head up Wells’ retail banking operations.

In the 2005 letter, the former manager wrote that he’d had a customer complain that after taking out a mortgage loan from one branch, a different Wells branch opened up unauthorized accounts — checking, savings, and debit card — in his name.

He cited other instances of “gaming,” like alleging that personal bankers at one branch who would meet goals by issuing significantly inflated loans. He gave the example of a customer who applies for a personal loan of $10,000. The banker would then issue a loan of $50,000 and have $40,000 of it repaid to the bank immediately.

“This is blatant gaming,” he wrote to Tolstedt. “Upper management is aware of this but they don’t want to know about it” because it would mean that their bonuses were obtained fraudulently.

The former manager claims in the letter to have filed ethics complaint with Wells and called the company’s ethics hotline, but to no avail.

While someone at Wells did receive the letter, it’s not known if Tolstedt actually read the warning or did anything about it. What is known is that she was promoted the next year to be head of the bank’s Community Banking division.

She “retired” in July 2016, months before the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and others ordered Wells Fargo to pay $185 million after confirming that employees had opened up more than two million bogus accounts to meet sales quotas and goals.

Tolstedt left the bank with a compensation package valued at around $124 million, but has since had $19 million of that clawed back by the Wells board of directors.

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