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Wednesday, March 5, 2008 01:39 am

Bank-robbing bankers

Last thing you want your banker to say is “Yikes!!!!”

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Untitled Document One word you never want to hear your dentist say is “Oops.” Likewise, a word you wouldn’t want to hear a top executive of your bank say is “Yikes!!!!”
Yet that’s exactly the comment that a Wachovia bank executive wrote in an internal memo in 2005 when she came across alarming numbers suggesting that Wachovia was involved in widespread fraud. In fact, she followed that with “Double Yikes!!!!” Her exclamatory memo is significant because it’s now part of a damning body of evidence revealing that not only was the bank involved in a scam that stole millions of dollars from unsuspecting victims but also that top officials didn’t stop it when they learned about it. About a year ago, lawsuits were filed against several banks accusing them of handling transactions from companies that swindled elderly people. The fraud involved the use of unsigned checks to withdraw funds from the bank accounts of the victims. It could only work if the swindlers had a bank that was willing to be the middleman, processing the thousands of unsigned checks deposited by the swindlers. Wachovia was one of the willing middlemen, but the bank executives claimed last year that they knew nothing of the thefts until the lawsuits were filed. Now, however, internal documents — including the Yikes!!!! memo — show that they did know but kept doing business with the swindling companies because the bank was able to collect large fees from them. As one Wachovia executive exulted in a memo written two years before the lawsuits, “We are making a ton of money from them.”
Wachovia kept processing the fraudulent checks, helping the companies illegally drain as much as $400 million from people’s accounts. It’s proof again that the biggest bank robbers are bankers.

Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, columnist, and author.
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