Wells Fargo's reputation has been pretty much destroyed since the company got caught making 3.5 million fake checking accounts and 500,000 fake credit card accounts in customers' names without their permission. The company wound up paying $185 million in fines to the Consumer-Finance Protection Bureau, as well as another $145 million in class-action lawsuits.
That seems like the sort of action that would completely cripple your business, but, since Wells Fargo is a gigantic bank, the company has kept rolling along. And, in South Florida, "rolling along" apparently includes "calling the cops on black people who are just trying to cash checks." The company has been sued three times this year for allegedly calling the police on innocent black people who are just trying to use the bank — here's a recap of the three cases so far.
Barbara Carroll just wanted to cash a check for $140. The 78-year-old former probation officer and assistant bank manager, who is black, stopped by a Wells Fargo branch in Fort Lauderdale last November for what she thought would be a quick errand.
Instead, she says, she spent two and a half hours at the bank's Victoria Park location while employees refused to cash her check or return her driver's license, asking the PhD-holder what she did for the money and telling her they had called police. They were suspicious that Carroll was guilty of forgery, she says — even after the man who wrote the check confirmed it was legitimate.
"I felt very embarrassed," she tells New Times. "I felt belittled. I can't tell you the emotions I felt."
After months of national headlines about black people being arrested or threatened with arrest for doing things as mundane as sitting in a Starbucks, barbecuing in a park, visiting a neighborhood pool, and selling water, Carroll has filed a lawsuit over what she describes as her encounter with institutional racism. In a complaint filed last week, she accuses the company of racial discrimination.
Wells Fargo spokesperson Rosanna Fiske says in an emailed statement that the company is aware of the case but unable to comment directly on pending litigation.
"Wells Fargo opposes discrimination of any kind as evidenced by our own non-discrimination policy, our commitment to diversity and inclusion in our work force, and our long-standing history of support for community organizations that embrace diversity,” she wrote.
After a long day of work, Jean Romane Elie headed to a Wells Fargo branch in West Palm Beach to withdraw money for rent. But when he handed over his driver's license and Visa card, the bank teller told the Haitian man to wait while she consulted with another teller.
As Elie stood in the lobby, one of the tellers called the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office. Instead of leaving the bank with his own money to pay his bills, Elie says he encountered a nightmare with the cops, who handcuffed him, detained him, and accused him of committing a felony.
He's the second black South Florida resident to allege recently that Wells Fargo racially profiled him and called police as he was trying to use normal banking services. An elderly black woman recently sued after a Fort Lauderdale Wells Fargo branch refused to cash her check, asked her how she got the money, and threatened to call the police on her.
In Elie's case, the cops actually showed up. Now, in a case pending in Palm Beach County Circuit Court, he's suing the nation's third-largest commercial bank, accusing it of racial discrimination, false imprisonment, and negligent training.
"After being handcuffed and on display in the Wells Fargo lobby for all customers to see, the surprised Elie professed his innocence of any crime," his complaint alleges.
In a statement, Wells Fargo spokeswoman Michelle Palomino says the bank is aware of the lawsuit but cannot comment since the case is still open. "Wells Fargo opposes discrimination of any kind," she added, "and we take Mr. Romane Elie’s allegations very seriously.”
When Satara Monroe tried to cash a paycheck at a local Wells Fargo, the teller called the cops on her. An hourlong police interrogation ended only when her boss drove to the Pompano Beach branch to personally verify the check was legitimate. Finally, two hours after walking through the bank's doors, Monroe got her cash.
It's not exactly an unusual experience for black Wells Fargo customers. Monroe, age 40, is the third South Floridian in recent months to sue the banking giant for racial discrimination.
"Banking while black — that was Ms. Monroe’s crime," reads her complaint filed earlier this month in federal court. "Ms. Monroe’s story is just another chapter in the tragic tale of the weaponization of 911."
In a statement to New Times, a Wells Fargo spokesperson disputed the claims.
“Wells Fargo opposes discrimination of any kind, and strongly denies Ms. Monroe’s allegations," Michelle Palomino wrote. "The complaint is simply not accurate in describing the events, and Wells Fargo looks forward to defending this matter in court.”
Keep Miami New Times Free... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Miami with no paywalls.