NEWARK, NJ - Essex County will no longer hold money in Wells Fargo accounts after clergy from Newark raised concerns about the bank’s aggressive foreclosure practices.

Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. gave a directive to transfer accounts to other banks in June, and announced today that all accounts would be withdrawn from Wells Fargo. The county had about $3.8 million in Wells Fargo accounts.

“The predatory lending schemes and aggressive foreclosure proceedings practiced by Wells Fargo destabilizes neighborhoods and has a negative impact on families and the community,” DiVincenzo said in a statement. “In addition, the recent reports that Wells Fargo denied mortgage modifications and ultimately foreclosed on those properties are further evidence of the bank’s malicious and insensitive treatment of people who placed their trust and financial futures with the bank.”

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Clergy members, including Rev. Ronald Slaughter of the Saint James AME Church, attended a June committee hearing with the freeholders to discuss the foreclosure issues in the county.

Slaughter also met with Wells Fargo representatives recently to discuss the bank’s role in the matter. The reverend said the bank agreed to do a forensic audit on 133 impending foreclosures between July and October this year. Spokespersons for Wells Fargo did not comment about the meeting when asked about it. 

"This is great news," Slaughter said. "In my meeting with Wells Fargo executives, I warned them that some leaders would step up and begin to show their support for families who have been grossly taken advantage of by the bank.

Slaughter praised DiVincenzo for his leadership on the issue.

"The County Executive is to be commended for showing compassion and concern for the citizens of this county by demonstrating to them that Essex County citizens are indeed first," Slaughter said. "I hope other elected leaders will follow the leadership of County Executive DiVincenzo and send a message to banks that they will no longer allow them to take advantage of its citizens through fraudulent foreclosures and predatory lending practices." 

A Wells Fargo spokeswoman said the company will reach out to county officials to address their concerns. 

"We were surprised and disappointed to learn of the county’s decision in the press," company spokeswoman AnnMarie McDonald in an email. "We have reached out to county officials and look forward to discussing their concerns."

In 2017, there were reportedly 4,388 foreclosures throughout Essex County, or one for every 72 houses. New Jersey, meanwhile, had the highest rate of foreclosures in 2017, according to a report from ATTOM Data Solutions.

Wells Fargo this month also said it made an error in calculating customers' eligibility for loan modifications. The mistake led to over 600 customers being denied loan modifications and about 400 foreclosures, the company said in a statement to news outlets.

East Orange, a city within the county, also divested from Wells Fargo last year.

The county freeholder board at the beginning of each year designates which banks it will hold accounts in, said county spokesman Anthony Puglisi. The county has accounts with 11 banks.

Wells Fargo Regional Foundation donated $100,000 to the Lincoln Park Coast Cultural District, a nonprofit organization focused on planning and design for the area. The grant will be used to survey the Lincoln Park area in Newark and develop a neighborhood plan.

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