A group of angry homeowners and community advocates disrupted Wells Fargo's shareholders meeting Tuesday and confronted the bank's CEO about it's foreclosure policies. The protestors were eventually arrested when they refused to leave the lobby of the San Francisco office building where the meeting was held.
Wells Fargo is foreclosing on the homes of some of the protestors, who demanded the nation's largest mortgage originator declare a moratorium on the process.
It was a step the company's Chairman and CEO John G. Stumpf refused to take.
"I get the fact that families are hurting," Stumpf said in response to the request, "but moratoriums only put off the inevitable. We need jobs in America, that's what we need."
In their remarks during the public comment period of the shareholders meeting, distressed homeowners accused Wells Fargo of "a lack of morals and ethics," and took aim at Stumpf's annual compensation package, which they said topped $30 million, but which the company's shareholder report put at $17 million.
(That's a $2.8 million base salary, a $3.3 million annual bonus, and a $11 million equity bonus. When he leaves the company, he will be paid $20 million under the terms of a deferred compensation package).
Stumpf said said his pay was "consistent with compensation principles... reasonable and appropriate."
But Sarah Kershnar, a Berkeley homeowner who has been trying for two years to modify her mortgage argued Stumpf's pay was "obscene."
"It's a profit at the cost of people's lives."
Kershnar, 41, had worked for the public health non-profit Generation Five for many years, but was laid off two years ago when the agency lost it's funding. She said she has mailed the same forms and papers to Wells Fargo many times in her quest to lower her monthly payments, but the company keeps losing them. "It's either negligent or incompetent," she said to the shareholders.
According to the U.S. Departments of Treasury and Housing of Urban Development, at the end of 2009, there were more than 350,000 Wells Fargo homeowners eligable for the federal government's home modification programs.
However, as of this February, only 77,402 of them had received permentant modifications to their mortgages.
Stumpf responded that Wells Fargo has re-negotiated the terms mortgages outside government programs and foregiven $4 billion in debt nationwide.
He scoffed at requests that the company had an obligation to go further because it had received billions of taxpayer bailout dollars.
"We didn't ask for this money from the federal government," Stumpf said. "We took it, because we were told that it was good for America."
Tensions ran high throughout the shareholders meeting, with eight demonstrators eventually arrested for misdemeanor trespassing.
"Maybe we just need to pray," said Rev. Dr. Mario Howell, the pastor of Antioch Church Family, one of those arrested.
Rev. Howell said attendance at his church has dropped over the last two years as more and more families are forced to leave their homes. "There's a tremendous sadness," he said. "Change needs to take place."
At the conclusion of their meeting, Wells Fargo shareholders voted down by a margin of three-to-one a resolution brought by union pension funds to begin an independent review of Wells Fargo's foreclosure practices. Shareholders also rejected by a similar margin a series resolutions to restrain executive compensation.
Wells Fargo reported $12.3 billion dollars in earnings for 2010, up slightly from the year before.
"It's not only about making money, it's about doing things right," Stumpf told shareholders, after San Francisco police officers removed the demonstrators.