Wells Fargo employees claim they were instructed by their bosses to target undocumented immigrants in order to boost sales, according to documents filed this week in a shareholder lawsuit against the bank.
Denny Russo, a branch employee from 2008 to 2011, claimed in documents obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle that:
The Wells Fargo employees were instructed to “round up” a group of the undocumented workers and drive them back to the Wells Fargo branch to open up checking and savings accounts in exchange for “waiving” check-cashing fees that the day laborers would otherwise have to pay.
Russo added that the employees sent to target the undocumented workers were typically Latinx themselves.
“When foot traffic was slow, the branch manager on duty instructed Wells Fargo employees of Hispanic heritage to go to a nearby 7-Eleven at 430 Washington St. in Petaluma, a known congregating point for undocumented day laborers,” according to Russo’s statement.
The allegations echo those made by Julia Miller, who served as a branch manager in Pennsylvania. Miller said employees would “patrol the streets and local security offices for new potential clients.” The goal, she explained, was to “get them into local branches and pressure them into opening new accounts.” Like Russo’s allegation, the employees involved were typically Latinx. The effort was dubbed “Hit the Streets Thursday.”
In a statement to CNBC, Wells Fargo vice president of corporate communications Ancel Martinez strongly denied the allegations brought up in the lawsuit.
“These assertions are offensive, because they run counter to the expectations of Wells Fargo, and would be a violation of policies we have in place to safeguard against abuses,” Martinez said. “As to the description that immigrants were pursued in this manner, we have no indication that consular card customers were disparately impacted among the 2 million accounts we analyzed that may have been unauthorized.”
The Chronicle points out that federal law mandates banks require account applicants to provide documentation that they are, in fact, who they claim to be. To that end, undocumented immigrants can open accounts if they possess an address, drivers license, and Individual Taxpayer Identification Number issued by the IRS, regardless of one’s immigration status.
The predatory practices alleged by the former employees come as the banking giant continues to face fallout from a 2016 settlement with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Wells Fargo agreed to a $185 million dollar fine for having opened deposit accounts, applied for credit cards, and creating fake debit cards for clients—all without their knowledge or permission.
Following the settlement, CEO John Stumpf stepped down from the company, and some 5,000 employees were fired. CNBC notes that Stumpf is named as defendant in the shareholders suit.
Earlier this week, shareholders re-elected all 15 of the Wells Fargo’s company directors.