Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.) urged federal officials to begin a criminal investigation of Wells Fargo executives at a press conference this morning outside of the bank's branch on Southwest Sixth Avenue in Portland.
The U.S. Department of Justice has been investigating whether the bank violated federal laws by pressuring employees to meet high sales quotas, leading employees to create fraudulent bank and credit accounts without customers' consent.
The bank was fined $185 million last month in civil penalties. But Sens. Merkley and Franken say that Wells Fargo executives should be held criminally accountable.
"When ordinary Americans break the law, they pay the price," said Merkley at today's press conference. "But time after time, when executives are involved in extensive fraud, they walk away scot-free. That must end."
The bank fired 5,300 employees over the course of several years for reasons related to the creation of fraudulent accounts, but Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf and other top executives are still on the bank's payroll.
"Wells Fargo's conduct was outrageous and unacceptable, and I believe that for too long, we've failed to hold executives accountable," Franken said at the conference. "That's why Sen. Merkley and I wrote to the Department of Justice urging them to launch an investigation of the conduct at Wells Fargo."
Wells Fargo spokesman Ruben Pulido says the bank is working to win back its customers' trust.
"We take Congressional concerns very seriously," Pulido said in a statement. "At Wells Fargo, our No. 1 priority is making things right with our customers and restoring the public trust, and we are dedicated to ensuring that all aspects of the Company's business are conducted with integrity, transparency and oversight. We are working at every level to diligently respond to, investigate and resolve any issues related to improper sales practices."
Earlier this week, Merkley and Franken, along with 14 other senators, sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch urging the Department of Justice to investigate the executives.
"Following the 2008 financial crisis, the American people watched as senior executives repeatedly escaped accountability for actions that nearly brought down the global economy," the letter reads. "Americans are rightly frustrated when they see that justice for the wealthy and powerful is very different than justice for everybody else."