Judge gavel, scales of justice and law books in court

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is charging two former executives at Wells Fargo & Co., in connection with the bank’s alleged fake account scandal.

Former Wells Fargo chairman and CEO, John Stumpf, and the former head of its community bank, Carrie Tolstedt, were both charged by the SEC for their roles in allegedly misleading investors about the community bank’s results.

Back in February, the SEC settled with Wells Fargo, which paid US$3 billion in a joint settlement between the SEC and the Department of Justice (DoJ).

The settlement stemmed from allegations that the bank misled investors when it touted the success of its “cross-selling” strategy, when it was “opening fake accounts for unknowing customers and selling unnecessary products that went unused,” the SEC said.

The charges against Tolstedt allege that she committed fraud by publicly endorsing the bank’s “cross-sell metric,” as a way of measuring its financial success and “despite the fact that this metric was inflated by accounts and services that were unused, unneeded, or unauthorized,” the SEC added.

The allegations have not been proven.

In its complaint, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the SEC is seeking a permanent injunction, civil penalties, disgorgement and an officer-and-director ban.

Stumpf settled the action without admitting or denying the charges. He agreed to pay a US$2.5 million penalty, which the SEC said will be returned to harmed investors, along with the US$500 million it collected from the bank as part of its joint settlement with the DoJ.

The SEC’s order against Stumpf finds that he certified its filings, “which he should have known were misleading.”

“If executives speak about a key performance metric to promote their business, they must do so fully and accurately,” said Stephanie Avakian, director of the SEC’s enforcement division.

“The commission will continue to hold responsible not only the senior executives who make false and misleading statements but also those who certify to the accuracy of misleading statements despite warnings to the contrary,” she added.