U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has been getting a lot of notice for her tough questioning of Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf, and that’s as it should be. The mega-bank recently settled a lawsuit over its outrageous practice of opening fake accounts for real customers without their permission — and then charging the customers fees for the “service.” At a Senate hearing Tuesday, Warren branded Stumpf “gutless” for blaming the mess on employees, called on him to resign and said he should be criminally investigated.
Federal prosecutors are reportedly looking into whether Stumpf and other senior bank officials engaged in fraud by imposing impossibly steep sales quotas that they knew — or should have known —would pressure bank workers to rack up fees by any means necessary. In the meantime, though, let’s remember what landed Stumpf in the Senate hot seat and perhaps in prosecutorial sights in the first place.
It began with investigative stories by now-retired Times reporter E. Scott Reckard beginning in 2013.
It continued with a lawsuit against Wells Fargo, filed last year by Los Angeles City Atty. Mike Feuer.
Feuer? Why him rather than some state attorney general?
Well, why not? Los Angeles banking customers were among the perhaps 2 million people being charged for services they never sought, and Reckard’s reporting began with a story on the firing of bank employees in the L.A. region for opening fake accounts. Feuer was elected to represent the municipal entity that is the city of Los Angeles, but also to look out for the interests of its people — and despite Wells Fargo’s court pleadings to the contrary, he had the power under state unfair business practice laws to act. He acted.
Los Angeles city attorneys are sometimes belittled for operating outside their local job descriptions in search of broader glory, but they could just as easily be chided for thinking too narrowly. What’s the point of voters in the nation’s second-largest city electing a lawyer if that person can’t or won’t look out for their interests? L.A.’s city attorney represents more people than the attorneys general of nearly half the states and has the power to protect consumers. In the Wells Fargo case, Feuer wielded that power well.