Wells Fargo facing whistle-blower complaint

July 24, 2011

A former Wells Fargo wealth manager in the District says the company forced her out for reporting her boss’s questionable investments, alleged securities violations and suspected insider trading.

Pamela S. Bolanis, 36, who was the senior vice president of investments in the Sargent Investment Group of Wells Fargo Advisors, filed a whistle-blower complaint with the Labor Department alleging her supervisor, Christopher Sargent, fired her in May for cooperating with Wells Fargo in an investigation of him.

Sarbanes-Oxley provides protection for employees of public companies to report activity they consider illegal and unethical.

Sargent did not respond to phone and e-mail requests for comment. In a statement, officials from Wells Fargo contested Bolanis’s allegations: “We do not believe that Ms. Bolanis’s claim has merit and we will defend against it at the appropriate time in the appropriate forum.”

According to the complaint, Wells Fargo enlisted Bolanis’s help in March 2010 out of concern that Sargent was placing his elderly clients in risky investments, including thinly traded penny and micro-cap stocks.

In her complaint, Bolanis alleges the company used her information to identify 65 instances where investors over the age of 65 had unsuitable positions. She also says she informed the firm of alleged compliance violations, such as Sargent buying prohibited securities and having employees imitate clients on the phone. Bolanis says Wells Fargo gave Sargent one year to adjust the accounts, but failed to follow up.

In the ensuing months, Bolanis continued to inform the company of Sargent’s imprudent activity, most notably suspected insider trading, according to the suit.

Officials at Wells Fargo declined to verify whether it ever investigated Sargent, stating that the company doesn’t “believe it is appropriate to adjudicate this matter in the press.”

Neither the Securities and Exchange Commission nor the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority would discuss whether it is pursuing an investigation of Sargent. FINRA has no record of any customer disputes, disciplinary or regulatory actions against Sargent, a 40-year industry veteran.

Before being let go, Bolanis said, she pleaded with Wells Fargo to address alleged acts of retaliation, including exclusion from client meetings, defamation and having accounts given away.

The company, according to the complaint, eventually scheduled mediation that proved unsuccessful. Once Bolanis was fired, Wells Fargo said she could leave with a fraction of her client list, resulting in a loss of some $400,000 in annual commission, said her attorney, Jason Archinaco of Pribanic, Pribanic + Archinaco.

Bolanis, who is now at Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, is seeking damages that include back pay and reinstatement of her contract.

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