Wells Fargo to pay $3 billion for illicit sales conduct
On February 21, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that Wells Fargo & Company (San Francisco, CA) and its subsidiary, Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. (Sioux Falls, SD) have agreed to pay $3 billion to resolve their potential criminal and civil liability stemming from a practice between 2002 and 2016 of pressuring employees to meet unrealistic sales goals that led thousands of employees to provide millions of accounts or products to customers under false pretenses or without consent, often by creating false records or misusing customers’ identities.
As part of the agreements with the United States Attorney’s Offices for the Central District of California and the Western District of North Carolina, the Commercial Litigation Branch of the Civil Division, and the Securities and Exchange Commission, Wells Fargo admitted that it collected millions of dollars in fees and interest to which the Company was not entitled, harmed the credit ratings of certain customers, and unlawfully misused customers’ sensitive personal information, including customers’ means of identification.
The criminal investigation into false bank records and identity theft is being resolved with a deferred prosecution agreement in which Wells Fargo will not be prosecuted during the three-year term of the agreement if it abides by certain conditions, including continuing to cooperate with further government investigations. Wells Fargo also entered a civil settlement agreement under the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act of 1989 (FIRREA) based on Wells Fargo’s creation of false bank records. FIRREA authorizes the federal government to seek civil penalties against financial institutions that violate various predicate criminal offenses, including false bank records. Wells Fargo also agreed to the SEC instituting a cease-and-desist proceeding finding violations of Section 10(b) of the Exchange Act and SEC Rule 10b-5. which make it illegal for anybody to directly or indirectly use any measure to defraud, make false statements, omit relevant information, or otherwise conduct business operations that would deceive another person in the process of conducting transactions involving stock and other securities. The $3 billion payment resolves all three matters, and includes a $500 million civil penalty to be distributed by the SEC to investors.