Cheronda Guyton, a Wells Fargo senior vice president has been fired from her job following reports that she was occupying a multi-million dollar Malibu beach house the bank had foreclosed on.
The bank said in a statement today that Guyton was fired after an internal investigation. Wells Fargo did not specifically name Guyton, but sources have confirmed her identity to ABC News.
The house in question, the bank says, ended up in their hands in May 2009 when the former owners turned it over to Wells Fargo after reportedly losing a bundle in Bernie Madoff's massive fraud.
"We deeply regret the activities that have taken place as they do not reflect the conduct we expect of our team members," the bank said in the statement. "We continue to place the highest value on honesty, trust and integrity to guide our team members in making business decisions each day."
This isn't the first time this year the billion-dollar San Francisco-based banking company finds itself mopping up a public relations mess. In fact, 2009 is shaping up as a corporate annus horribilis for Wells Fargo -- a banking behemoth which touts itself on its Web site as one of America's great companies.
In February, just months after receiving $25 billion from the U.S. Treasury as part of the TARP bailout plan, came news that the bank planned a lavish "employee recognition" event in Las Vegas. The all-expenses paid, multi-night extravaganza included rooms at two of the priciest hotels in Sin City -- the Wynn, Las Vegas and Encore, Las Vegas.
After Washington lawmakers and others publicly criticized bank executives for "spending taxpayer money to bankroll Las Vegas junkets," the trip was cancelled.
A few months later, in August, Wells Fargo announced that four of its most senior executives -- including CEO John Stumpf -- would be the recipients of huge boosts in pay. Stumpf's salary increased six-fold from $900,000 to more than $5 million. The company explained the increase was necessary to "pay ... senior people fairly" because TARP-funded banks are subject to limits on the amount of non-salary compensation executives can receive.
But Main Street seemed to take a dim view of boosting the take-home pay of senior banking executives while receiving a taxpayer funded bailout.
W. Michael Hoffman, executive director for the Center for Business Ethics at Bentley University in Waltham Mass., argued that the perception created by these problems can have a harmful effect on a bank like Wells Fargo. "I think the public is fed up with it when corporations continue to miss the big picture that their reputations are at stake here ... they risk people getting angry and pulling out their money or simply not doing business with them."
Hoffman added that an air of corporate entitlement is still prevalent at many large financial institutions. "I have consulted for many of these kinds of people over the years. Many of them have assumed a kind of air of privilege they feel they have worked hard and they have worked at this level and normal rules don't really apply to them."
Over the past few months, in addition to fighting for its reputation in the court of public opinion, Wells Fargo has also been battling allegations in several different courts of law.
The city of Baltimore and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, among others, have filed suit against Wells Fargo accusing it of discriminatory lending practices.