Wells Fargo claims dismissed

Wells Fargo
Wells Fargo

A federal judge ordered Wednesday the dismissal of the final piece of a whistleblower lawsuit filed against Wells Fargo & Co. by a former employee, George Hartzman of Greensboro.

Hartzman worked as a financial adviser for the bank from 1993 until he was fired Oct. 8, 2012.

He claims to be a whistleblower for trying to disclose — in November and December 2011 through an internal Wells Fargo EthicsLine — financial information that allegedly was not included in bank regulatory filings in 2008 and 2009. Some of the information related to how the bank acquired a collapsing Wachovia Corp. in fall 2008.

Hartzman filed his complaint in September 2014. He accused the bank of violating the federal Sarbanes Oxley Act and Securities and Exchange Commission regulations, of not upholding fiduciary responsibilities to shareholders, and committing acts of fraud in terms of financial reporting and disclosures.

Much of Hartzman’s complaint evidence is based on an August 2011 Bloomberg News article and a January 2013 Rolling Stone article.

In December 2010, the Winston-Salem Journal reported on the Federal Reserve notifying Congress that it provided below-the-radar-screen loans to Wachovia and more than 400 other recipients during the 2008-11 financial crisis.

Wells Fargo’s dismissal request was filed in November 2014, citing the allegations are dependent on “outlandish conspiracy theories.” Wells Fargo did not provide comment on the dismissal by Thursday evening.

In February 2016, Judge William Osteen Jr. dismissed the second amended complaint by Hartzman except for a retaliation claim as it related to Sarbanes-Oxley.

Osteen Jr. had set a jury trial for July 31 in the Middle District of N.C. after the parties were not able to reach a settlement on the final claim. On June 20, Osteen said he would instead rule on competing summary judgment motions.

On Wednesday, Osteen approved the bank’s motion for dismissal.

When contacted by email Thursday, Hartzman referred to his summary judgment motion. He repeated his opinion that BH Media Group has a conflict of interest in reporting on his complaint. Berkshire Hathaway Inc. owns BH Media Group, which operates the Winston-Salem Journal and the News & Record of Greensboro. Berkshire is Wells Fargo’s largest individual shareholder at 10 percent.

Hartzman’s claim includes that his “protected activity” actions “was a contributing factor in the unfavorable action” of his termination.

Osteen wrote that “assuming without deciding that Hartzman satisfied his prima facie (defined legally as “at first sight”) burden under Sarbanes Oxley, this court finds that Wells Fargo has presented clear and convincing evidence detailing the rationale behind the unfavorable personnel action, including the decision to terminate Hartzman.”

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