A Wells Fargo bank manager tried to warn the head of the company’s regional banking unit of an improperly created customer account in January 2006, five years earlier than the bank has said its board first learned of abuses at its branches.
In recent months, the discovery of as many as 2 million improperly created accounts has widened into a public scandal for Wells Fargo, one of the country’s largest banks by assets. Some lawmakers, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Rep. Roger Williams of Texas, have called for CEO John Stumpf to step down. A letter written in 2005 and obtained by VICE News details unethical practices that occurred at Washington state branches of the bank, suggesting the conduct began years before previously understood.
Dennis Hambek, a former branch manager in West Yakima, Washington, sent a certified letter in January 2006 to Carrie Tolstedt, then Wells Fargo’s head of regional banking, outlining unethical “gaming” activity at area branches. In 2007, Tolstedt was made the company’s head of community banking, the division where many of the unethical practices occurred.
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Hambek says a customer named Bill Moore came to his branch in July 2005 after he learned that a different Wells Fargo branch had opened checking, savings, and debit-card accounts in his name without his authorization. Hambek asked Moore to write out details of his complaint. Then, Hambek says, he reported the ethics violation to the bank’s investigations department and called a hotline employees were encouraged to use to report misconduct. He says no action was taken.
Six months later, Hambek sent the certified letter explaining what he had seen to Tolstedt. “I would hope that this type of management is only occurring in Washington and not throughout Wells Fargo,” he wrote.