Senators urge criminal probe of Wells Fargo execs

by Ryan Smith06 Oct 2016
Fourteen senators, including Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, are calling on the Department of Justice to investigate whether executives at Wells Fargo are criminally culpable in the bank’s opening of 2 million unauthorized accounts.

In a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, the senators acknowledged that the DOJ was already investigating the bank itself.

“As part of this investigation, we urge you to thoroughly investigate the culpability of senior executives at the bank,” they wrote. “We believe this is a critical test of the Department’s promise last September to ‘strengthen (its) pursuit of individual corporate wrongdoing’ and to ‘focus on individuals from the inception of the investigation.’”

The senators criticized the government’s past response to misdeeds by the nation’s largest banks – namely, throwing fines at the banks while holding no executives accountable.

“No top Wall Street executives went to prison or even faced prosecution,” they wrote. “Instead, the government regularly settled for a penalty that was borne by the bank’s shareholders, not its executives. Even that penalty tended to pale in comparison to the profits the bank generated from its illegal activity.”

“Americans are rightly frustrated when they see that justice for the wealthy and powerful is very different that justice for everybody else,” the senators added. “A bank teller that takes a handful of bills from the cash drawer is likely to face charges for theft and prison time. He or she can’t hide behind an army of lawyers and corporate policies that diffuse accountability for those at the top. Meanwhile, an executive who oversees a massive fraud that implicates thousands of bank employees and costs customers millions of dollars can walk away with a hefty retirement package and millions in the bank.”

The senators said that the DOJ’s habit of settling corporate fraud cases without holding individuals responsible “reinforces the notion that the wealthy and powerful have purchased a higher class of justice for themselves.”

“We are not in a position to determine if any of the senior executives at Wells Fargo committed criminal conduct,” the letter stated. “That is ultimately the job of the Justice Department and courts.”
 

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