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Tavis Smiley is distancing himself from Wells Fargo and & Co. over the company’s alleged discriminatory practices.

“I cut everything off with Wells Fargo,” Tavis told The move was prompted by a lawsuit charging that the financial company’s Wealth Building seminars were nothing more than a front to sell risky subprime mortgages to minority customers, The Washington Independent reports.

The suit, filed by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, highlighted an often-overlooked explanation of the seminars that was in direct conflict with how the events had been advertised. Supposedly, the real aim had always been to lure Black and Latino borrowers into costly loans.

Tavis was frequently a featured speaker at the Wealth Building seminars that were often held in predominately Black neighborhoods in eight cities, including Baltimore and Chicago.

“According to a former Wells Fargo Home Mortgage employee, one of these ‘Wealth Building’ seminars held in Maryland was planned for an audience that would be virtually all African American,” the suit states. “The plan for the seminar was for Wells Fargo Home Mortgage employees to talk about subprime mortgages, although they were directed by Wells Fargo Home Mortgage to use the term ‘alternative lending’ when marketing these products.”

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Suit Alleges Trusted Blacks Drew Minorities To High-Rate Loans, [Updated, 09.17.09 at 5:23 p.m.]

As the housing market began booming in mid-2000, Wells Fargo & Co. teamed up with prominent African American commentator and PBS talk show host Tavis Smiley and financial author Kelvin Boston, the host of “Moneywise,” a multicultural financial affairs show, to host something called “Wealth Building” seminars in black neighborhoods.

Smiley was the keynote speaker, and the big draw, according to Boston and Keith Corbett, executive vice president of the Center for Responsible Lending, who attended two of the seminars. Smiley would charge up the audience — and rattle the Wells Fargo executives in attendance — by launching into a story about how he hated banks, and how they used to refuse to lend him money for his real estate projects in Compton, Calif. and elsewhere. After Hurricane Katrina, Smiley also emphasized the importance of building assets and wealth, saying those who had done so were able to leave New Orleans, while people with nothing had to stay behind, Boston said.

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Source: The Washington Independent