Navajo Nation, Wells Fargo reach settlement after ‘harmful business practices’

Updated: Navajo President Jonathan Nez said he will hold bank “accountable”

The Navajo Nation and Wells Fargo Bank agreed to a $6.5 million settlement for the bank’s “harmful business practices” on Thursday.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said he will hold the bank “accountable” in a statement.

“Wells Fargo’s predatory actions defrauded and harmed the Nation,” Nez said. “We held Wells Fargo accountable for their actions and we will continue to hold other companies accountable if their business practices do not respect our people — this puts other companies on notice that harmful business practices against the Navajo people will not be tolerated.”

The lawsuit has been in federal and tribal courts since December 2017. The Navajo Nation said that employees pressured vulnerable Navajo people, such as elders who only speak Navajo, to open up accounts when they didn’t need to, reported the Los Angeles Times.

This deal comes after a $575 million settlement in 2018 with multiple states and the Distric of Columbia that claimed the bank opened fake accounts and “improperly referred and charged customers for financial products,” reported Reuters.

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The tribe wanted more than $50 million for the damages, according to John. C Hueston when the lawsuit was initially filed. The tribal nation’s complaint said the bank caused harm to tribal members but the bank said they didn’t in a letter to the tribe, reported the Los Angeles Times.

Despite not getting the full amount they wanted, the attorneys who worked on the case are “proud” of their work.

“The Wells Fargo settlement compensates the Nation, as well as avoids the uncertainty and expense of continued litigation,” said Navajo Nation Attorney General Doreen N. McPaul. “Our litigation team at the Department of Justice, led by Assistant Attorney General Paul Spruhan, handled the tribal court litigation and he and Assistant Attorney General Jana Werner from our Tax and Finance Unit coordinated with our outside counsel on the federal case.”

John C. Hueston of Hueston Hennigan partner handled the federal litigation with the firm’s partner Moez M. Kaba.

“We are proud of our work for the Navajo Nation and for securing this important settlement,” Hueston said.

The Navajo Nation Vice President Myron Lizer is “pleased with the settlement, and proud that our attorneys were able to secure more for the Navajo Nation in settlement than any other state with comparable populations.”

Wells Fargo sent a statement to Indian Country Today after the settlement.

“Our agreement with the Navajo Nation demonstrates our commitment to make things right regarding past sales practices issues as we continue the important transformation of our company," said spokesperson Carolina Guana. "With this matter resolved, we look to continue building upon our long-standing relationships with the Navajo Nation and its members, and continue to help our customers and communities throughout Indian Country.”

RELATED: Wells Fargo CEO gets $18.4 million payday after exchange on Capitol Hill about Standing Rock, values

Wells Fargo is still looking for a replacement for former CEO Timothy Sloan who suddenly resigned last March. 

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Jourdan Bennett-Begaye, Diné, is the Washington editor for Indian Country Today based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter: @jourdanbb. Email: jbennett-begaye@indiancountrytoday.com

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