Wells Fargo: Your Neighborhood Mega-Money Laundering, Drug War Profiteering, Prison-Industry Enlarging Bank
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/Rob Wilson
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Just recently, in late July, Wells Fargo surpassed the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) as the world’s largest bank by market capitalization. This followed Wells Fargo reporting a 19% increase in profits over the second quarter as the bank has been busy consolidating the housing market while other big banks have retreated from it. Wells Fargo had amassed a share of almost 40% of the U.S. mortgage market by early 2013.
Now, let's put this in context with the company's other recent activities.
Wells Fargo, which acquired Wachovia in the wake of the financial crisis, controlled roughly 28.8% of all home loans issued across the United States in 2012, compared to 11.2% of the market it controlled in 2007, just before the housing implosion. In 2012, the bank paid a $175 million settlement following revelations that “mortgage brokers working with Wells Fargo had charged higher fees and rates to more than 30,000 minority borrowers across the country than they had to white borrowers who posed the same credit risk.”
In the settlement, the world’s largest bank “admitted no wrongdoing,” noting in a press release that the bank simply wanted “to avoid a long and costly legal fight.” Then, in 2013, Wells Fargo agreed to a further $42 million settlement because “it neglected the maintenance and marketing of foreclosed homes in black and Latino neighborhoods across the country.” Again, of course, the bank admitted no wrongdoing.
But that's just the tip of things. A civil mortgage fraud suit was filed against Wells Fargo in late 2012 for hundreds of millions of dollars in damages over “reckless mortgage loans” made by the bank for over a decade in the lead-up to the financial crisis. Even in light of the massive settlement in 2012 over mortgage fraud, which simultaneously forced big banks to adhere to new rules regarding the mortgage market, it was found that both Bank of America and Wells Fargo had “flagrantly violated those obligations,” increasing foreclosure risks for Americans. Also, this past May, Wells Fargo agreed to pay a $105 million settlement in a fraud case brought by Orange County, which also implicated Bank of New York Mellon to the tune of a $114 million settlement.
It gets better. In 2010, Wachovia – which was purchased by Wells Fargo in 2008 – paid a settlement of $160 million for laundering over $100 million in drug money for Mexican and Colombian drug cartels. Further, the bank admitted that it had failed to “apply the proper anti-laundering strictures” regarding the bank’s handling of $378.4 billion in currency exchanges with Mexico between 2004 and 2007. A federal prosecutor commented, “Wachovia’s blatant disregard for our banking laws gave international cocaine cartels a virtual carte blanche to finance their operations,” as tens of thousands of Mexicans were killed in an exponentially violent drug war.
Thus, in the aftermath of the financial crisis, not only did the big banks receive sprawling government bailouts (Wells Fargo got $25 billion from the U.S. government), but according to the UN, proceeds pouring in from the global drug trade ultimately helped keep Wells Fargo and others afloat as “the only liquid investment capital” available to them during the crisis. But Wells Fargo didn't just profit from laundering money for major drug cartels -- it also profited, and continues to profit, at the other end of the drug war as a major investor in the prison-industrial complex, specifically with heavy investments in the GEO Group, the second largest private prison company in the United States.