Wells Fargo Dealer Services agreed to repay another $5.4 million to about 450 service members whose vehicles were repossessed by the bank in violation of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, the U.S. Department of Justice announced this week.
The latest payout is related to a $4.1 million settlement the bank reached with the Justice Department in September 2016. That agreement resolved allegations that the bank violated the SCRA when it repossessed 413 cars owned by protected service members between January 2008 and July 2015. Since entering into that settlement, which required that the bank pay $10,000 to each of the affected service members, the bank has identified additional service members impacted by its unlawful repossessions during that period.
“We are pleased that Wells Fargo is taking action to compensate these additional service members as required under the settlement with the Justice Department,” said acting U.S. Attorney Sandra Brown. “Losing an automobile through an unlawful repossession while serving our country is a problem service members should not have to confront.
The bank has now repaid more than $10.2 million to more than 860 service members under the September 2016 settlement, which also required that it pay a $60,000 civil penalty to the United States and repair the credit of all affected service members. According to the Justice Department’s announcement, Wells Fargo has begun to provide $5.4 million in compensation to these additional service members under that agreement.
The original settlement was the result of an investigation launched by the DOJ in March 2015 after receiving a complaint from the U.S. Army’s Legal Assistant Program. It alleged that the bank’s dealer services business unit had repossessed Army National Guardsman Dennis Singleton’s used car in Hendersonville, N.C., while he was preparing to deploy to Afghanistan to fight in Operation Enduring Freedom.
After repossessing the car, Wells Fargo sold it at a public auction and then tried to collect a deficiency balance of more than $10,000 from Singleton and his family. In October 2014, while seeking assistance with debt consolidation, Army National Guardsman Singleton met with a National Guard attorney, who informed him of his rights under the SCRA. The attorney then requested from Wells Fargo information about the original loan and repossession, as well as copies of the correspondence and payment history — requests that went unanswered.
The DOJ’s subsequent investigation corroborated Singleton’s complaint and uncovered a pattern of unlawful repossessions over a more than seven-year period. The SCRA requires a court to review and approve any repossession if the service member took out the loan and made a payment before entering military service. A court may delay the repossession or require the lender to refund prior payments before repossessing. The court may also appoint an attorney to represent the service member and require the lender to post a bond with the court and issue any other orders it deems necessary to protect the service member.
By failing to obtain court orders before repossessing vehicles owned by protected service members, Wells Fargo prevented the affected service members from obtaining a court’s review of whether its repossessions should be delayed or adjusted to account for their military service, according to the Justice Department.
“The men and women of our armed forces should be able to devote their full attention to their military duties, without having to worry about their cars being repossessed back home,” said acting Assistant Attorney General John M. Gore. “ We are pleased that our settlement agreement has ensured that hundreds of additional servicemembers will be compensated for the damages they suffered as a result of illegal auto repossessions.”