May 6, 2016 / 11:07 PM / a year ago

Wells Fargo told staff to keep quiet about missing papers: lawsuit

(Reuters) - A former employee accused Wells Fargo & Co of instructing workers at a call center to refrain from telling customers about lost deeds or other missing documents, and of firing the worker who called the policy unethical, according to a lawsuit made public this week.

The sign outside the Wells Fargo & Co. bank in downtown Denver April 13, 2016. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

Duke Tran, who was a customer service specialist at the bank, says that his supervisor berated him for telling a husband and wife that their loan contract was missing from an internal system.

Tran and others later received an email instructing them not to tell customers about situations “where we have a lost contract, deed, any type of document, really, but especially when it relates to securing a property,” according to a copy of the email filed with the lawsuit.

The email told the employees “to say that we need to do further research or something similar” and then to escalate the phone call to a boss.

Representatives for Wells Fargo, the largest U.S. mortgage lender, declined to comment on Friday.

Like other major lenders, Wells Fargo has been battered by lawsuits over its conduct before and after the 2008 financial crisis. Last month, it admitted to deceiving the U.S. government into insuring thousands of risky mortgages and agreed to pay $1.2 billion.

The U.S. Department of Justice had an option to join Tran in his case because his suit alleges fraud on the government. It has declined to do so. That is typically a sign the department thinks a lawsuit is unlikely to succeed.

Tran filed his lawsuit in June 2015 under court seal, which is common for suits alleging fraud on the government. U.S. District Judge Anna Brown in Portland, Oregon, ordered the papers unsealed on Thursday.

The lawsuit seeks damages and an injunction.

Tran’s trouble began around December 2013 when he took a call from a husband and wife about an upcoming balloon payment on a mortgage, according to the lawsuit.

Tran told them the bank’s copy of the loan contract was missing, and when he reported the issue to a supervisor, he was told his job was in jeopardy, the suit says.

Other customers also had loan documents missing, and many of their loans had been acquired by Wells Fargo from First Union or SunTrust Bank, according to the lawsuit.

Tran was fired in November 2014 after more than 10 years with the bank, the lawsuit said.

Reporting by David Ingram in New York; Additional reporting by Dan Levine in San Francisco; Editing by Matthew Lewis

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