Mexican Singer Says|Bankers Stole Her Money

     LOS ANGELES (CN) — Mexican singing star Ana Bárbara sued Wells Fargo, accusing the bank of creating a corrupt business culture that encouraged two employees to steal more than $400,000 from her accounts.
     Her Los Angeles County Superior Court lawsuit, filed Thursday, claims the national bank “created a hothouse for the growth of fraud and theft” by demanding that employees sign up customers for multiple accounts, products and services — sometimes without the customers’ knowledge.
     The bank is “well known” for a corrupt culture that “pressures its employees to lure customers into setting up multiple undesired accounts … thereby maximizing Wells Fargo’s profits while at the same time exposing its customers to needless costs and injuries,” Bárbara’s lawsuit alleges.
     The complaint, filed by Devin A. McRae of Early Sullivan Wright Gizer & McRae in Los Angeles, quotes extensively from a May 2015 lawsuit against Wells Fargo by L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer that charges the bank with “gaming” customers to attain exaggerated sales quotas.
     Pressure for sales drives employees to engage in “fraudulent conduct, including opening customer accounts, and issuing credit cards, without authorization,” the new lawsuit says, quoting Feuer’s.
     Wells Fargo “employees were, and are, instructed by management to lie to customers,” it adds in another quote.
     A federal class action filed last year in San Francisco levels very similar accusations against the bank.
     In Bárbara’s case, two Wells Fargo employees, Arturo Arias and Jorge Valdez, get most of the blame and are named as defendants.
     Bárbara, whose real name is Altagracia Ugalde Motta, is considered a leader in developing a style of regional Mexican folk music into the modern Grupero genre, for which she has won the Latin Grammy award.
     Arias was a fan and sought her out as a Wells Fargo customer because “landing a celebrity customer like Ana Bárbara would be quite a coup,” the suit says.
     He met her in April 2012, became a friend and then came to her Los Angeles home in January 2013 to sign her up for a checking and savings account at his branch in Orange County, Bárbara says. Because she does not speak English well, she allegedly “relied on Arias to represent her interests in setting up the personal account.”
     She says he came back in March to open business accounts for her.
     “Arias instructed Ana Bárbara that, as her Wells Fargo bank representative, he would be in charge of all her accounts and would monitor them for her,” the complaint states.
     Then in May, using her personal information and what the suit labels “Wells Fargo’s hallmark practice of ‘pinning,'” he allegedly created new personal identification numbers, passwords and email addresses for her accounts so that he could access the accounts but she could not.
     In January 2014, according to the lawsuit, Arias and Valdez forged Bárbara’s signature and opened a fraudulent line of credit in her name.
     Arias used the accounts “as his own personal piggy bank” — he even ordered checks for the business account, which another bank employee turned over to him, the suit alleges.
     To ensure Bárbara didn’t find out, Arias regularly went to her home to remove any mail she received from Wells Fargo, she says. He also registered his car at her address, according to the complaint.
     All told, Arias allegedly took $416,000 from the singer. He and Valez damaged her credit so badly that she was unable to finance a new home, her lawsuit claims.
     When she learned of the fraud, Bárbara became so upset, she says she had to cancel a tour to Mexico and Bolivia, which cost her another $884,000.
     Arias and Valdez eventually confessed their activities to the singer and the bank in August last year. In September, the bank deposited $127,000 into a new checking account it opened for Bárbara without her knowledge, the suit says.
     Now, Wells Fargo officials contend the bank owes her just $3,500 more under a federal banking law, according to the suit.
     Her lawsuit for conversion, deceit and negligence seeks at least $1.17 million in damages, including $333,000 under a federal statute, plus punitive damages.
     Neither Arias nor Valdez could be reached at their former bank branches. Spokespersons for Wells Fargo and for the law firm defending the bank in the city’s case, Munger, Tolles & Olson, did not respond to requests for comment.
     But in a statement, Bárbara said, “What happened to me should not happen to anybody. I am so upset about it that I cannot talk about it. However, I am confident in the American justice system.”

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