By Laura J. Keller, Bloomberg News
Wells Fargo & Co.’s attorney who mistakenly released reams of sensitive data about wealthy clients asked a judge to order the records returned to the bank and they not be spread any further, after being leaked to a newspaper.
Lawyers representing Gary Sinderbrand, a former Wells Fargo financial adviser, were provided with data for possibly tens of thousands of brokerage accounts in a New Jersey lawsuit involving him and his brother.
“This case is an especially egregious one,” Angela A. Turiano, the Bressler, Amery & Ross lawyer who released the account data, wrote in a July 24 court filing in New York state court. She said Sinderbrand’s lawyers had “obligations to immediately return” the information but instead “released the materials directly to their client, who, without skipping a beat, then dispatched the materials to The New York Times.”
The newspaper published a story detailing the breach of what it said were 50,000 Wells Fargo accounts. That development has put Wells Fargo, already in the regulatory spotlight because of last year’s fake-account scandal, further into the crosshairs of government officials. At least one regulator has asked questions about the flub, Bloomberg reported on Saturday. State laws and U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission rules require banks to safeguard client data.
Sinderbrand didn’t provide the New York Times with all of the files he received, but rather showed editors samples of the information with certain client details redacted, said John Truscott, a representative for Sinderbrand at Truscott Rossman.
“He wants to give the information back but frankly given how the law firm for Wells Fargo has handled this, there’s not a lot of trust,” Truscott said. The information helps Sinderbrand’s case in the New Jersey lawsuit, he added.
The breach began with a spat between Sinderbrand and his brother, Steven, over less than $1 million. Sinderbrand’s lawyers sought documents related to an allegedly unpaid consulting agreement that gave Steven advice on covering brokerage clients he and his brother used to jointly manage at Wells Fargo.
Wells Fargo agreed to send Sinderbrand’s attorneys information from four email accounts, according to the July 24 filing. A third-party firm that helps process documents for legal cases produced 5,000 emails for the request. Turiano said she reviewed the data before the law firm sent it to Sinderbrand.
Aaron Zeisler, an attorney for Sinderbrand at Zeisler PLLC, told Turiano what she sent was “a slew of documents revealing billions of dollars of client account information from residents of numerous states and possibly Europe,” according to a copy of a July 20 letter filed with the New York court.
The information -- which the letter says wasn’t marked confidential -- included social security numbers, names and addresses of Wells Fargo brokerage clients. There was no confidentiality agreement or protective order covering the information, Zeisler said.
Turiano said in the court filing that the encrypted CD on which the information was sent was stamped “Confidential.” Wells Fargo determined the mistakenly disclosed data was from accounts from one brokerage branch in the Northeast, a person briefed on the matter said Saturday.
Shea Leordeanu, a Wells Fargo spokeswoman, said the bank’s systems remain secure.
“Our goals are to ensure the data is not disseminated, that it is rapidly returned, and that we ensure the discovery process going forward in the cases is working as it should,” Leordeanu said in an emailed statement.
The case is Mill Lane Management LLC v. Wells Fargo Advisors LLC, 652025/2017, Supreme Court, State of New York (Manhattan).
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