Wells Fargo, Nation settle lawsuit for $6.5 million

WINDOW ROCK

Wells Fargo Bank will pay the Navajo Nation $6.5 million.

The Navajo Nation and the giant bank settled a lawsuit brought by the Nation, which claimed Wells Fargo’s “predatory and unlawful” practices targeted and harmed the Navajo people.

In 2017, under the former Navajo Nation Attorney General Ethel Branch, the Navajo Nation filed the lawsuit against Wells Fargo, accusing the institution of a widespread system of “unfair, deceptive, fraudulent and illegal practices.”

“The Navajo Nation and its members entrusted Wells Fargo with their finances and personal information,” stated the complaint. “In return, Wells Fargo preyed on members of the Navajo Nation, including Navajo elders, who are some of the Navajo Nation’s most vulnerable citizens.”

The complaint continued to state that Wells Fargo employees lied to Navajo consumers, telling elderly Navajo citizens who did not speak English that in order to have their checks cashed, they needed to sign up for savings accounts they neither needed nor understood.

In 2016, Wells Fargo employees secretly opened unauthorized accounts to hit sales targets and receive bonuses, and they stated that no one on Navajo in Arizona or New Mexico were impacted or harmed by this.

“The Navajo Nation learned only recently that, contrary to Wells Fargo’s express representation, since at least 2009 and continuing through 2016, Wells Fargo employees at branches on the Navajo Nation routinely opened unauthorized savings and credit accounts, misled customers into opening unnecessary accounts, obtained debit cards without customers’ consent, and enrolled customers in online banking without proper consent,” stated the complaint.

The complaint further details a long pattern of misconduct by Wells Fargo, and brought claims under the Federal Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA), claims under other federal consumer protection laws, and claims under state, tribal and common law. The Nation also filed a separate lawsuit in Navajo Nation District Court reasserting its tribal and common law claims.

The current Attorney General, Doreen N. McPaul, stated that a litigation team at the Department of Justice, led by Assistant Attorney General Paul Spruhan, handled the tribal court litigation and he and Assistant Attorney General Jana Werner from the Tax and Finance Unit coordinated with outside counsel on the federal case.

“Wells Fargo’s predatory actions defrauded and harmed the Nation,” stated Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez. “We held Wells Fargo accountable for their actions and we will continue to hold other companies accountable if their business practices do not respect our people — this puts other companies on notice that harmful business practices against the Navajo people will not be tolerated.”



About The Author

Arlyssa Becenti

Arlyssa Becenti reports on Navajo Nation Council, Business, Fort Defiance Agency, New Mexico State politics and Art/fashion. Her clans are Nát'oh dine'é Táchii'nii, Bit'ahnii, Kin łichii'nii, Kiyaa'áanii. She’s originally from Fort Defiance and has a degree in English Literature from Arizona State University. Before working for the Navajo Times she was a reporter for the Gallup Independent. She can be reached at abecenti@navajotimes.com.