by Pam Martens and Russ Martens, Wall St On Parade:
Tomorrow the U.S. Senate Banking Committee will hold a hearing to take testimony from Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf and Federal regulators to understand how this mega bank was able to get away with opening more than two million fake customer accounts over a span of years. The accounts and/or credit cards were never authorized by the customer and were opened solely by employees to meet sales quotas, get bonuses or to avoid getting fired for failing to meet sales targets.
The only reason the Republican-controlled Senate is holding this hearing is because the Wells Fargo fake-account story got a lot of coverage in the media when the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) announced a $185 million settlement over the charges on September 8. The reason the story got a lot of media coverage is because it’s a simple story to tell: widely respected bank opens two million accounts for its customers without their knowledge or permission, sometimes illegally funneling money to the new account from the old account to generate fees.
In July of last year, when Citibank, the deposit-taking retail bank settled charges with the CFPB for $700 million for deceptively selling add-on products to credit card customers, the Senate Banking Committee yawned and did nothing. The story didn’t get major press attention because it was a complicated story to tell. Among a long list of fraudulent practices, the CFPB found that Citibank led 2.2 million customers to believe they were paying to have their credit card monitored for fraud and identity theft, “when, in fact, these services were either not being performed at all, or were only partially performed,” according to the CFPB.
The CFPB charges against Citibank came exactly two months after Citbank’s parent, Citicorp, pleaded guilty to a felony with the Justice Department in connection with the rigging of foreign currency. On the same day, another U.S. mega bank, JPMorgan Chase, also pleaded guilty to a felony related to the same crime. Both banks are more than a century old and both banks, on May 20 of last year, pleaded guilty to a felony for the first time in their history.
The public first got its peek into the corrupt culture at Citigroup, the bank holding company of Citibank, on December 4, 2011 when Richard Bowen, a former Citigroup Vice President and whistleblower, appeared on 60 Minutes. Bowen explained how he had found that Citigroup was buying fraudulent mortgages and selling them to investors as sound investments. When his superiors ignored his warnings, in November 2007 he wrote to top management, including the CFO, chief risk officer and Robert Rubin, the Chairman of Citigroup’s executive committee who, as a former Treasury Secretary under Bill Clinton, had pushed to deregulate Wall Street banks – allowing them to hold FDIC insured products and cross-sell their carnival barker wares to the public.
Bowen explained on 60 Minutes what happens when an honest employee speaks out in one of the Wall Street banking behemoths: “I was relieved of most of my responsibility and I no longer was physically with the organization.” He was told not to show up at the bank.
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