Wells Fargo Employee Withdraws Money From Customers ATM Accounts

May 13, 2016

I often marvel at the power and majesty of euphemisms.  For example, consider the definition of the legal term "conversion" as provided by Law.com:


n. a civil wrong (tort) in which one converts another's property to his/her own use, which is a fancy way of saying "steals." Conversion includes treating another's goods as one's own, holding onto such property which accidentally comes into the convertor's (taker's) hands, or purposely giving the impression the assets belong to him/her. This gives the true owner the right to sue for his/her own property or the value and loss of use of it, as well as going to law enforcement authorities since conversion usually includes the crime of theft.

I gotta give Law.com credit for that lovely admission that "conversion" is "a fancy way of saying 'steals.'" Unfortunately, we don't always see such candor in the official (and often officious) pronouncements from various courts, administrative and regulatory organizations, and the like. I'm not going to be a hypocrite, however, and pretend that I don't understand why public documents resort to the technically-correct lexicon.  You have to be careful in this litigious age about asserting that someone engaged in the crime of theft when no one has been criminally charged and no one has been found guilty of a crime. Nonetheless, many of us cringe when we read the tortured language used to paint the picture of what strikes us as criminal theft but frequently gets ascribed to mere civil conversion. Consider a recent FINRA regulatory settlement. It's not that the respondent stole anything. No . . . what he did was engage in conversion via unauthorized withdrawals from someone else's bank account. I mean, c'mon now, you're not really going to suggest that he stole anything, are you?

Case In Point

For the purpose of proposing a settlement of rule violations alleged by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority ("FINRA"), without admitting or denying the findings, prior to a regulatory hearing, and without an adjudication of any issue, Christopher John Pierce  submitted a Letter of Acceptance, Waiver and Consent ("AWC"), which FINRA accepted. In the Matter of Christopher John Pierce, Respondent (AWC  2016049391101, May 9, 2016).

In 2006, Pierce entered the industry and by January 2014, he was registered with FINRA member firm Wells Fargo Advisors, LLC. While registered with Wells Fargo Advisors, Pierce was also employed as a Personal Banker at the firm's affiliate bank. The AWC asserts that Pierce had no prior relevant disciplinary history.

SIDE BAR: Hmmmm . . . the AWC does not spell out the name of Wells Fargo Advisors, LLC's affiliate bank, which is merely referenced as the "affiliate bank." Wow, now there's a real stumper. I have no idea and I don't even know how or where to begin to search for the identity of that affiliate bank. I know there's something called the Wells Fargo Bank but, gee, I wonder if there's any relationship, any relationship at all, between that bank and the FINRA member firm Wells Fargo Advisors, LLC? What do you think?

Private Banking

The AWC asserts that on March 1, 2016, without the Wells Fargo affiliate bank's customer's knowledge or consent, Pierce issued an instant debit card  with a $1,500 daily withdrawal limit under that customer's name. On the same day of the card's issuance, Pierce allegedly made two unauthorized  ATM withdrawals at his branch office from the customer's account in the total amount of $1,380

Double Dip

On March 3, 2016, the customer arrived at the branch office to complain about the withdrawals and Pierce purportedly deposited $1,380 into the subject account via an unauthorized withdrawal from a second customer's account.

Kicked to the Curb

According to online FINRA BrokerCheck records as of May 13, 2016, Wells Fargo Advisors "Discharged" Pierce on March 4, 2016, based upon allegations that:

Wells Fargo Banker discharged after admitting that he issued an instant debit card linked to a customer's bank account and used it to withdrew money from the customer's bank account. It was also discovered that he withdrew money from a second customer's bank account to credit the first customer's bank account.

FINRA Sanctions

FINRA deemed Pierce's conversion of funds from the two customers as a violation of FINRA Rule 2010. In accordance with the terms of the AWC, FINRA barred Pierce from association with any FINRA member firm in any capacity. 

my daddy was a bankrobber

but he never hurt nobody

he just loved to live that way

and he loved to steal your money