The California Court of Appeal has remanded a lawsuit filed by an elderly woman accusing Wells Fargo of defrauding her and her husband. The case now goes back to the Los Angeles Superior Court, where a judge must determine whether Wells Fargo engaged in fraud when its employees executed its agreement with the couple.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Shook had previously concluded that the arbitration clause in the brokerage agreement between Ronnie and Ira Brown and Wells Fargo Bank, NA was unconscionable. However, he had decided that it was up to a jury to decide whether constructive fraud occurred. If Shook now decides that Wells Fargo did engage in the alleged fraud, the arbitration clause and any other portion of the agreement could then be determined unenforceable.
Sometime between 2003 and 2004, Wells Fargo assigned company vice president and trust administrator Lisa Jill Tepper to serve as Ira and Ronnie Brown’s “relationship manager.” Ira Brown, who was 93 at the time and suffering from health issues (he has passed away since), founded the Save-On Drug chain. His wife, Ira, was 81.
Tepper, who is now a defendant in this case, visited the Browns regularly to assist with their financial paperwork. She eventually began providing the couple with investment advice. At one point, she recommended that they open a Wells Fargo brokerage account because she believed that their other investments were inappropriate due to their advanced age. Through Tepper, the couple began working with Wells Fargo stockbroker Jack Harold Keleshian, who is now also a defendant in the case.
With Tepper and Keleshian’s help, the couple opened up a number of investment accounts, including a “Brown Family Trust.” An arbitration clause was included among the documents.
In 2006, Ronnie sued Wells Fargo. She claimed that when she was under duress while caring for her ailing husband, the bank pressured her into selling nearly 75,000 stock shares at $24.71. She says Keleshian told her that if she didn’t sell, the stock’s value would drop dramatically.
Instead, the stocks increased in value while Ronnie experienced an increase in capital gains taxes. Ronnie claims her damages were over $1 million (including Wells Fargo’s commission from the stock sale). Wells Fargo wants to resolve the dispute through arbitration.
Related Web Resources:
C.A. Orders Hearing on Claim Bank Defrauded Drug Chain Founder, MetNews.com, November 26, 2008
Brown v. Wells Fargo Bank N.A., Cal. Ct. App., No. B196258 (PDF)
Shepherd Smith Edwards & Kantas LTD LLP represents senior investors that have been the victims of broker fraud.