Large banks have been in the news lately for various forms of misconduct, from rate fixing to money laundering. But the press largely has ignored the law firms that represent banking scoundrels.
Birmingham-based Bradley Arant is one such law firm. We've already shown that Bradley Arant has a penchant for representing bad actors. One is Campus Crest Communities and its CEO, Ted Rollins, who has a documented history as a child abuser, based on his conviction for the assault of his 16-year-old stepson. Another is London-based HSBC, which recently was exposed as a source of international money laundering for a variety of criminal enterprises.
But our research shows that Bradley Arant's ties to unsavory conduct are deeper--and hit much closer to home--than most Alabamians probably realize. That is largely driven by Birmingham's long-time status as one of the nation's top 10 banking centers.
One bank with deep roots in Birmingham has a history of moving dirty money for Mexican drug cartels. And what local law firm is deeply intertwined with that bank? Public records show that it's Bradley Arant.
Officials for Wachovia Bank admitted in 2010 that they helped move $378.4 billion for Mexican drug cartels. Wachovia, which was purchased by Wells Fargo in 2008, paid $160 million in fines and penalties, and according to Bloomberg, that amount is less than 2 percent of the bank's $12.3 billion profit for 2009.
Wachovia had roots in Charlotte, and Wells Fargo is based in San Francisco, so where is the Birmingham connection? Well, that goes back to SouthTrust Corporation, which once was known as one of our city's "Big Four" banking institutions.
SouthTrust had $53 billion in assets and branches in nine states (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia) when it merged with Wachovia in 2004. Wachovia was experiencing deep losses in the midst of the 2008 financial crisis when Wells Fargo plucked the bank off the scrap heap at a bargain-basement price of $12.8 billion.
If you live in Birmingham, or any of the other locations once served by SouthTrust, you started to notice Wachovia signs being replaced by Wells Fargo signs in 2009, the year the transition launched.
Throughout the SouthTrust/Wachovia/Wells Fargo mating dance--when Birmingham was hemorrhaging banking jobs--Bradley Arant had its dirty hands in the pie. And it looks like there was plenty of dirt go around.
Public documents show that Bradley Arant has been entrenched for years in the SouthTrust/Wachovia/Wells Fargo troika, which we now know was built in part on a foundation of money laundering with some of the globe's most vicious criminals.
What kind of company has the sprawling bank been keeping over the years? Bloomberg shines light on that question in a July 2010 article titled "Wachovia's Drug Habit." From reporter Michael Smith:
Since 2006, more than 22,000 people have been killed in drug-related battles that have raged mostly along the 2,000-mile (3,200-kilometer) border that Mexico shares with the U.S. In the Mexican city of Ciudad Juarez, just across the border from El Paso, Texas, 700 people had been murdered this year as of mid- June. Six Juarez police officers were slaughtered by automatic weapons fire in a midday ambush in April. . . .
Behind the carnage in Mexico is an industry that supplies hundreds of tons of cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamines to Americans. The cartels have built a network of dealers in 231 U.S. cities from coast to coast, taking in about $39 billion in sales annually, according to the Justice Department. . .
Wachovia is just one of the U.S. and European banks that have been used for drug money laundering. For the past two decades, Latin American drug traffickers have gone to U.S. banks to cleanse their dirty cash, says Paul Campo, head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s financial crimes unit.
Did Bradley Arant have concerns about jumping in bed with a bank that helped fund murderous drug lords? Sure doesn't look like it. Let's consider a small sampling of evidence from public records:
* Bradley Arant represents SouthTrust before its acquisition by Wachovia;
* Bradley Arant represents SouthTrust in its $14.3 billion sale to Wachovia;
* Bradley Arant represents Wachovia in the sale of branches with $600 million in deposits;
Those deals came before news broke about the SouthTrust/Wachovia/Wells Fargo ties to drug trafficking. Did Bradley Arant distance itself once that news hit the press? Heck, no.
In a lawsuit styled Wells Fargo v. Enviromate LLC, we learn that Bradley Arant still is involved with one of the dirtiest banks on the planet. Bradley Arant lawyers Glenn Glover and Thomas Griffin filed the complaint on Wells Fargo's behalf in May 2011. James Hancock, a U.S. judge in the Northern District of Alabama, entered partial summary judgment in Wells Fargo's favor roughly two months ago.
Individuals and entities with ties to Bradley Arant sure do tend to prevail in Alabama courts, don't they? Gee, I wonder why that is. Could it be that ties to massive amounts of Mexican drug money help buy lots of clout in Alabama's "justice system"?
And isn't it interesting that Alabama citizens seem blissfully unaware that SouthTrust/Wachovia/Wells Fargo and Bradley Arant have connections to drug trafficking? Of course, there probably is a simple explanation for that. If you go to al.com and do a search for "Wachovia and drug cartels," it turns up nothing about the bank's ties to money laundering. It appears the story went unreported in Alabama, where the bank has a major presence and at least one-third of its roots are planted.
The story will not go unreported at Legal Schnauzer. We've been examining the tentacles of SouthTrust and Bradley Arant to determine exactly where they lead in the Birmingham community. It turns out they reach into some very interesting places.
(To be continued)