Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye. Photo: Navajo Nation Office of President and Vice President
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Navajo Nation accusses Wells Fargo Bank of exploiting tribal citizens in new lawsuit

The Navajo Nation is suing Wells Fargo Bank, alleging the financial giant exploited tribal citizens by pressuring them into opening accounts and signing them up for debit and credit cards without their consent.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in New Mexico, accuses the bank of targeting elders, minors and those with limited proficiency in English. It seeks restitution, damages, penalties and other remedies on behalf of deceived customers.

“Wells Fargo’s exploitation of its customers has been well documented,” President Russell Begaye said in a press release on Tuesday. “But even so, Wells Fargo’s actions toward the Navajo people have been of a uniquely outrageous nature.”

Last year, Wells Fargo was hit with a $100 million fine by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for engaging in the same types of practices. The bank agreed to pay the full amount, plus a penalty of $35 million penalty to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency for the federal government, and another $50 million in California.

The bank is not commenting directly on the tribe's lawsuit. But in a statement quoted by The Arizona Republic and The Los Angeles Times, a spokesperson said Wells Fargo was working to improve relations with Navajo citizens.

“Over the past year we have taken significant steps to make things right for our customers, including members of the Navajo Nation, who may have been affected by unacceptable retail sales practices,” the spokesperson said in the statement.

According to The Associated Press, Wells Fargo operates 5 branches on the Navajo Nation. Another 12 branches are located within 30-minute drives of reservation borders, the AP reported.

“The practices of Wells Fargo are shameful because Navajo elders, many of whom do not speak or read English fluently, were targeted into purchasing products to help Wells Fargo branches meet their quotas,” Dwight Witherspoon, a delegate to the Navajo Nation Council, said in a press release. “Wells Fargo’s practices were particularly egregious because many Navajo people often have no other choice but to bank with Wells Fargo because it is often the only banking option available.”

The Navajo Nation is being represented by its Department of Justice and by the Hueston Hennigan firm.

Read More on the Story:
Navajo Nation files lawsuit against Wells Fargo Bank (The Farmington Daily-Times December 13, 2017)
Navajos sue Wells Fargo, allege 'predatory' banking practices (The Arizona Republic December 13, 2017)
Navajo Say Wells Fargo Defrauded the Elderly (Courthouse News Service December 13, 2017)
Navajo Nation sues Wells Fargo claiming it was targeted for fake accounts (The Los Angeles Times December 12, 2017)
Navajo Nation Sues Wells Fargo In Federal Court (KJZZ December 12, 2017)
Navajo Nation sues Wells Fargo for alleged predatory tactics (The Associated Press December 12, 2017)