Supervisors Consider Using $25M Wells Fargo Settlement to Investigate Other Consumer Protection Violations
Los Angeles County officials are considering how to spend $25 million in legal penalties levied on Wells Fargo, with some proposing Tuesday, Nov. 22 that a new litigation division be set up to target violators of consumer protection laws.
The bank is set to pay $50 million in civil penalties to resolve litigation involving bank accounts set up without customers’ permission. The money, to be split between the county and city of Los Angeles, is in addition to at least $135 million in penalties paid to two federal agencies over similar allegations.
The payments settle a lawsuit brought by City Attorney Mike Feuer, filed after the Los Angeles Times reported that fake accounts were created without customers’ knowledge and caused them to rack up bank fees.
Supervisors Hilda Solis and Mark Ridley-Thomas pointed to Feuer’s success as potential justification for setting up a unit of county attorneys targeting those who routinely ignore consumer protections.
By law, the funds must be used by either the District Attorney or County Counsel. However, the money could be spent on a wide range of efforts, including enforcing minimum wage violations, battling fraudulent immigration consultants, expanding legal assistance centers, identifying theft among foster youth or establishing a Center for Financial Empowerment, according to the
The Los Angeles City Council recently budgeted roughly $5.8 million to fund Feuer’s consumer protection division.
Wells Fargo officials have said the agreements were made with its customers in mind and out of a desire to show accountability.
“Wells Fargo is committed to putting our customers’ interests first 100 percent of the time, and we regret and take responsibility for any instances where customers may have received a product that they did not request,” the company said in a statement issued in September when the settlement was announced.
“Our entire culture is centered on doing what is right for our customers. However, at Wells Fargo, when we make mistakes, we are open about it, we take responsibility and we take action. Today’s agreements are consistent with these beliefs.”
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, one of the federal agencies that also reached a settlement with Wells Fargo, alleged that the bank opened hundreds of thousands of deposit and tens of thousands of credit card accounts without their customers’ knowledge or permission.
The fake accounts were set up by bank employees to achieve sales goals and reap financial incentive rewards, and the bank fired about 5,300 employees as the result of the allegations, according to the CFPB.
The Board of Supervisors asked for a report back in 60 days.
Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer today announced criminal charges against five Boyle Heights metal plating businesses, with allegations ranging from improperly disposing of hazardous materials to metal dust contamination outside of the business.
“Families in every Los Angeles neighborhood deserve to be protected from dangerous toxins that threaten their health and safety,” said Feuer, whose office is working with the California Environmental Protection Agency on filing the charges.
The cases were the results by the CalEPA’s Environmental Justice Compliance and Enforcement Working Group to coordinate with local agencies.
Feuer said their office is “intensifying our focus on environmental justice, deepening our partnerships with state and local agencies and committing ourselves to rid underserved communities of pollution that no one should have to tolerate.”
Feuer filed misdemeanor charges against:
—Nature’s Design, at 1318 Velasco St., and business owner Carlos Leong, 72, alleging illegal disposal of hazardous waste, specifically the disposal of a container of potassium cyanide in a trash bin;
—Bronze-Way Plating Corporation, at3532 E. 15th St., and business owner Benyamin Mikhaelfard, 56, alleging illegal hazardous waste storage for over 90 days, and failure to close and label hazardous waste containers;
—Grana Industrial Finishers Inc., at 3524 E. 14th St., and business owner John Grana, 56, alleging metal polishing dust residue were found at multiple sites around the business, failure to submit a hazardous materials and emergency response plan to the fire department and failure to label hazardous waste containers;
—California Electroplating Inc., at 3510 E. Pico Blvd., and business owner John Grana, 56, alleging discharge of hazardous waste, improper storage of hazardous waste that could affect storm water runoff and the presence of metal polishing dust residue outside the company; and
—Chromal Plating, at 1748 Workman St., and company executives and general managers, alleging that corrosive yellow and black oily liquid was found on the inside floors of the business, and metal dust shavings were seen outside near storm water runoff, and no labeling of multiple waste containers.
Each count carries penalties of up to six months in county jail and a $1,000 fine, with the exception of the charge against Nature’s Design. If convicted, the company and Leong face up to a year in county jail and up to $100,000 in fines.
Leong’s company was previously convicted in 2008 of illegal hazardous waste disposal, and was ordered to pay $80,000 in penalties and restitution.
Arraignments are set for Jan. 14 in Department 47 of the Criminal Courts Building.
Further actions are being planned for the Pacoima area, according to Feuer’s office.
Worried about a rash of gang-related shootings in their neighborhood, residents packed a meeting at the Highland Park Senior Center Thursday night to hear what police are doing to get the situation under control.
A turf war between two rival gangs – Avenues and HLP – is being blamed for the 13 shootings, 9 people shot, in less than two months. Not all the victims were gang members, said Capt. Anthony Oddo of the Los Angeles Police Dept. Northeast Division.
He pointed out the boldness of the shootings, several which took place in broad daylight with many people around.
The Historic Highland Park Neighborhood Council hosted the meeting, with representatives of the two city council districts that cover the area, CD-1 and CD-14, LAPD Police Commissioner Sandra Figueroa-Villa, Supervisor Hilda Solis and the city attorney’s office in attendance.
Ranking officers assigned to the Los Angeles Police Department’s Northeast Division were out in force and did most of the talking, answering questions and taking criticism from residents.
Northeast police know there is a problem and we are getting reinforcements, including more patrol units and special teams from other areas, Oddo said.
But we are getting very little information from the public about the shootings and none of the shooters are in custody, he said.
“Victims are not talking to us … they are not gang members; they’re scared,” the captain said, adding the department needs the public’s help to stop the shootings.
There has been 105 arrests in the Highland Park area during the same period, but none have led to the shooters, he said, but he’s hopeful one may still lead to a suspect.
You may not be sure if it’s important, but the smallest bit of information, things heard from other people can be looked into and may lead somewhere, he said, urging people to call police with any information they may have.
Several residents complained they’ve seen this coming for some time, noting the increase in graffiti and “cross outs,” the practice of one gang crossing out the tag of a rival, which often leads to violent retaliation.
They say they call the graffiti in right away to get cleaned up to try to stop the violence that could come next, but wanted to know what else they could do.
Call in what you see, get to know your neighbors, form a neighborhood watch, were among the suggestions.
“We cannot do this alone, we need the community to get involved,” officers said.
Residents say they are worried AB 109 and the governor’s prison realignment, and passage of Proposition 47, are sending criminals released early from jail back into their neighborhood.
One speaker said gang members are hanging out at homeless encampments and she’s heard the homeless are being paid with drugs to burglarize local homes and cars.
Resident Richard Marquez said it’s time to stop dancing around and talk about the real issue: Highland Park has a big problem with meth dealers and users, and it’s big money. “Meth dealers pay taxes to gang members” and the way to stop the shootings is to shut down the drug trade, he said.
“There’s a fight for the financial gain of the drug turf in the neighborhoods,” Marquez said.
Lt. John Cook is in charge of Northeast’s gang reduction unit and said they are closely monitoring the gang members coming out of jail.
Are there still gang injunctions in place? someone asked.
There are three gang injunctions—a court-issued restraining order prohibiting known gang members from congregating with each other— in place, (Avenues, Dogtown, HLP), but they don’t apply to new gang members, according to Cook.
Former Highland Park resident Lily Herrera said she is worried about her mother who still lives in the neighborhood. Years of mistrust of the police by residents is keeping people from saying what they know. “The community is afraid because there’s a barrier” when it comes to communication, she said.
She suggested LAPD explore more strategies to reach out to the community.
Teacher Gemma Marquez demanded to know why police are not regularly visiting local elementary schools to develop those relationships. “We know who the at-risk kids are,” she said. “We know the families, we see them as early as kindergarten,” and the police need to present a different view.
She also criticized officers for not notifying Garvanza Elementary to go on lock-down during a recent shooting at a nearby park. “Where were you! We should have been called.”
Oddo apologized for not considering students were still at the afterschool program at 5 p.m. when the shooting occurred.
LAPD has “very little coming in” from the community and that’s frustrating, said Oddo. He said his top priority is the violence in the Northeast, but said he needs people to call them when they see something.
Two upcoming events will provide more information and resources to the community: the Annual Peace in the Northeast March and Resource Fair on April 18, and a forum on gang injunctions April 30 at the Highland Park Senior Center.
Updated 04-06-15 to add LAPD Commissioner Sandra Figueroa-Villa attended the meeting.