Even a private citizen can’t arrest a bank CEO

Commentary: Activists try to put the cuffs on Wells Fargo chief

DENVER (MarketWatch) — Melvin Willis, a 22-year-old activist from Richmond, Calif., attempted something Tuesday that not even the U.S. attorney general dares to do: Place the CEO of a giant bank under arrest.

“Too-big-to-jail is an outrage,” Willis told me in a telephone interview after the attempt.

Willis had just interrupted the annual shareholders meeting of Wells Fargo WFC +0.03%   in Salt Lake City where he told CEO John Stumpf that he was under citizen’s arrest.

In the realm of high finance, such vigilante justice never gets far. Private security guards surrounded Willis and members of his posse. They were escorted from the Grand America Hotel before they could even read off the charges.

Willis is a part-time staffer at the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment. The group drove more than 700 miles from the San Francisco Bay area to demonstrate against Wells Fargo, as they have so many times in the past. Offenses in their “citizen’s arrest warrant” included illegal foreclosures and unlawful discrimination against black and Hispanic mortgage applicants.

Last year, Wells Fargo agreed to pay tens of millions of dollars to settle civil complaints containing these same allegations. But the bank denied guilt, and not one executive was named as a defendant.

After the financial crisis hit in 2008, Wells Fargo received $25 billion from the Troubled Asset Relief Program. It has since repaid this taxpayer bailout, but it can’t shake its branding as a too-big-to-fail bank, an institution too critical to the financial system to ever be shut down or prosecuted.

“The only thing John Stumpf has is a lot of money,” Willis said. “Otherwise, he’s just a person like any of us. If we did what he did … we would all be locked up.”

Rest here…