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Wells Fargo's Massive Fraud Made This Woman Filthy Rich

By John Maxfield - Sep 13, 2016 at 4:04PM

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Overseeing a massive fraud translated into generational wealth for one Wells Fargo executive.

By defrauding customers, one Wells Fargo executive earned a $125 million payday. Image source: iStock/Thinkstock.

Just in case you weren't outraged enough at the fact that thousands of employees at Wells Fargo (WFC -2.35%) fraudulently opened up to 2 million accounts for customers without their consent, then I have a chart for you. It reveals the one person who, more than anyone else, appears to have personally benefited from the fraud.

I'm referring to Carrie Tolstedt, the executive who oversaw Wells Fargo's community banking division for much of the past decade. That includes the years from 2011 to 2015, when more than 5% of the employees under her watch engaged in a wide-ranging, systematic scheme to boost revenue by taking advantage of millions of unwitting customers.

As an aside, Wells Fargo claims that only 1% of its employees engaged in this behavior. This is based on the fact that it fired approximately 1,000 employees a year over five years, equating to 1% of its branch-based staff each year. But if you aggregate the terminations, which I believe offers a more accurate reflection of the underlying point, then you get 5,300 terminations, or 5.3% of its 100,000 branch-based employees.

Wells Fargo reported two months ago that Tolstedt had decided to retire at the end of this year, though she stepped down from her role overseeing the bank's branch network on July 31. "A trusted colleague and dear friend, Carrie Tolstedt has been one of our most valuable Wells Fargo leaders, a standard-bearer of our culture, a champion for our customers, and a role model for responsible, principled and inclusive leadership," said chairman and CEO John Stumpf at the time.

As a parting gift, Tolstedt will earn a purported $93 million payday, according to The Financial Times, the lion's share of which stems from the exercise of stock awards that she received from the bank along the way. The bank's latest proxy filing shows that the 27-year Wells Fargo veteran owns more than 2.5 million shares of stock in one way, shape, or form.

That's a lot of money. But just how much it is becomes even clearer when you compare it to the amount of money that Wells Fargo paid in fines to regulatory agencies for its transgressions:

Data source: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and The Financial Times. Chart by author.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the upstart regulatory agency that ostensibly led the investigation, got a $100 million fine from Wells Fargo. But even though that was the biggest fine assessed by the CFPB in its five years of operation, it's still only slightly larger than what Tolstedt is set to walk away with.

And there's simply no comparison between how much Tolstedt will get relative to the other government bodies that joined with the CFPB to sanction Wells Fargo. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency got only $35 million, while the city and county of Los Angeles, which was the first to sue the bank, received $50 million in civil penalties.

This goes to show that even the best-performing banks in the country seem to have lost their bearings over the past few decades in terms of what is and what isn't appropriate conduct.

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