Tribe also files separate lawsuit in tribal court

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FARMINGTON — The Navajo Nation is appealing its federal case against Wells Fargo Bank, in addition to filing a separate lawsuit in tribal court.

The latest action by the tribe was announced today in a press release from the Navajo Nation Department of Justice.

A federal judge dismissed the tribe's case against the banking institution on Sept. 25.

Wells Fargo provides banking and financial services from branches on the Navajo Nation or in towns near the reservation in New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.

In its December 2017 filing, the tribe alleged the bank used unfair and deceptive banking practices to prey on and pressure tribal members into opening accounts.

The tribe also claimed Wells Fargo employees used information provided by customers to open multiple accounts without customer authorization.

A notice of appeal was filed on Oct. 25 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in Denver.

"The Navajo Nation is confident that its federal claims will be vindicated on appeal and that Wells Fargo will be held accountable for its egregious targeting of the Navajo people, especially our elders, with unlawful sales practices," Attorney General Ethel Branch said in the release.

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said the banking institution's action "defrauded and harmed the nation."

"As we have said all along, we intend to hold Wells Fargo accountable through whatever means necessary, and we are committed to seeking recovery for our people," Begaye said in the release.

In a statement to The Daily Times today, Wells Fargo stated it remains focused on rebuilding trust and building a better bank.

"We have taken significant steps to make things right for our customers, including members of the Navajo Nation, who may have been affected by unacceptable retail sales practices. We continue to welcome — and encourage — customers with questions or concerns to contact us," Wells Fargo stated.

In his decision in September, New Mexico District Court Judge James A. Parker determined the tribe's claims against Wells Fargo for violating the Consumer Financial Protection Act were barred because the banking institution settled with a federal agency in September 2016.

Although Parker dismissed certain claims, he did not prohibit the tribe from refiling its claims in federal, state or tribal court.

The tribe revived its lawsuit in an Oct. 29 filing in Window Rock District Court, maintaining Wells Fargo defrauded tribal members by exercising unlawful practices and made misrepresentations to tribal leaders about those practices to avoid investigation.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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