Wells Fargo fake account scandal said to draw probe

Pam MacLean and Laura J. Keller

Federal prosecutors are investigating Wells Fargo & Co. in connection with the bank’s sales practices after it agreed to pay $185 million in fines for opening more than 2 million unauthorized accounts, according to a person familiar with the Justice Department investigation.

U.S. attorneys in New York and San Francisco have opened criminal inquiries, the person said, adding that under Justice Department guidelines, investigators will look into both potential corporate and individual wrongdoing.

Wells Fargo on Sept. 8 settled allegations that it opened credit-card and deposit accounts for customers without their approval, while not admitting or denying wrongdoing. Wells Fargo fired 5,300 workers over the matter and said it would eliminate sales goals regulators linked to its practice of cross-selling products. Chief Executive Officer John Stumpf also sent an email to customers on Wednesday apologizing for the actions.

Included in the $185 million settlement, Wells Fargo will pay a record $100 million fine to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and $35 million to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the two federal regulators that investigated the bank. The amount also includes $50 million to the Los Angeles city attorney in civil penalties, the largest that agency says it has ever received.

Abraham Simmons, a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office in San Francisco declined to comment on the probe, while James Margolin, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in New York, didn’t immediately respond to a call seeking comment.

The Justice Department investigation was reported earlier Wednesday by the Wall Street Journal. Prosecutors issued a subpoena for documents and other materials, according to the newspaper.

Mark Folk, a spokesman for the San Francisco-based bank, declined to comment.

Following criticisms that U.S. authorities had failed to hold bankers to account in the aftermath of the financial crisis, the Justice Department last September issued a policy requiring all civil and criminal cases begin and end with a focus on individual accountability.

Under the policy, laid out in a memo by top department official Sally Quillian Yates, companies facing criminal investigations would have to turn over information about any responsible individuals in order to win reduced penalties.