Naked Capitalism: A fraud and breach of fiduciary duty ruling against Wells Fargo in a major scandal in Minnesota may have much broader ramifications for this sanctimonious bank.The facts are not pretty. Wells Fargo, in its investment management operation, used securities lending to boost returns. But the returns it increased appeared to be only those of the bank. Institutional investors in various programs lost money as a result of this activity. Four Minnesota plaintiffs, including two of the state’s high profile charities, sued. A jury had already awarded the plaintiffs $29.9 million for fraud. A post trial ruling by the judge has added costs, interest, and reimbursement of fees that looks set to more than $15 million to the total.
District Judge M. Michael Monahan concurred with the jury’s main findings:
Wells Fargo breached its duty of full disclosure by not adequately disclosing that it was changing the risk profile of the securities lending program, that it breached its duty of impartiality by favoring certain participants over other participants, and that it breached its duty of loyalty by advancing the interest of the borrowing brokers to the detriment of one or more of the plaintiffs.
What makes this ruling interesting is that although it set aside a minor part of the jury award, a $1.6 million issue, to be subject to a new trial, is that it was punitive as a result of the judge’s determination that the fraud was systematic. It is unusual to award the payment of the plaintiff’s attorney’s fees, or to order disgorgement of fees paid for services (the other component of the additional $15 million plus is interest on the $29.9 million). The basis for awarding attorneys’ fees? The bank is such a menace to society that having counsel root it out is a public service. Read more…..