Where Facts And Controversy In The News Come Together In Truth

Friday, September 30, 2011

City National Bank Offering Federal Inmates Checking Accounts

Bankers Set Up Makeshift Office In Federal Prison Halfway Houses Offering Free Preferred Checking And Overdraft Protection To Inmates

“City National employees maintain strong relationships with customers and are in tune with the needs of local citizens. In response to local demand, for instance, we were the first in our markets to introduce an innovative checking option, Bounce Back Checking, for individuals who have been denied the opportunity to open a checking account and are looking for a fresh start.” City National Website

In either an unorthodox attempt to boost its own bank customer base or in keeping with their professed “strong relationships with the needs of local citizens,” Bank officers are setting up shop each month in select Federal Halfway Houses within WV, Ohio and Kentucky to entice inmates into depositing their money into checking and savings accounts. 

One Dismas Charities employee (federal halfway house) who asked to remain anonymous stated that bank representatives from City National come to the St. Albans WV facility each month to meet one on one with inmates to open savings and or checking accounts. In fact, we were given a copy of a posted notice at Dismas advertising the banks routine visit to the halfway house to offer checking and savings accounts to residents. (Inmates)

Federal Bureau of Prison (BOP) and Dismas policy requires each person residing at the federal facility to have a bank account and deposit a percentage of their payroll earnings into it. Dismas Charities in St. Albans also banks with City National and according to our inside source, the bank gives incentives to Dismas Corporate for allowing them first access to the men and women living at the facility.  What type of incentives are alleged? “At one time it was $100 for each new account.” If true, that's a bit shady at the least.

A Whole New Meaning To The Bounce Back Checking Program

We obtained documents from a former resident at Dismas who had been convicted of counterfeiting and had a long history of trouble with checking accounts over a 30 year period.  “The bank employee who opened my accounts with a cash deposit only asked for a social security card, drivers license and my signature." Several days later he received confirmation of his accounts being opened as a preferred customer, deposits slips and a VISA bank card came soon after. (His bank statements and checks have the address of this Dismas facility printed on them)

But, it didn’t end there… besides the free preferred customer checking and savings accounts, this man also received $800 worth of overdraft protection without ever asking, opting in or applying for it. And, according to a copy of his credit report, the bank never ran a required credit check that they state is required for that service. If they had, his low score credit rating of 522 would have been a quick denial.

“One day when I was in the bank to see if I was overdrawn on my checking account, the teller told me that I had overdraft protection and it was the highest amount available, $800.”
"The bank teller went on to explain that overdraft protection was like having a pre-approved loan and that I could use it whenever I desired.” But what no one explained to him, the bank charges $34 each and every time the overdraft protection is used. And, that $34 fee counts against the $800. It turned out to be a total disaster for this person who now owes the bank approximately $1,400. Note: In July 2010 a class-action federal lawsuite was filed that alleges City National Bank WV charged customers overdraft fee's on their accounts through "unfair and deceptive overdraft practices."
We also discovered that this practice of approaching inmates to open accounts not only increases the banks customer base and on hand deposits, the bank employees are able to better meet their personal incentive goals at work for new accounts. The Dismas facility in St Albans produces up to 15 new accounts each month.
“It’s like shooting fish in a barrel” according to our Dismas source.

The Pro’s And Conn’s To City Nationals Program

When first learning of City National Banks ongoing practice of approaching inmates to open checking and savings accounts, it raised a red flag. Its almost comical and very shady considering the allegations of kickbacks to the halfway house corporation.

When looking at this from the prisoner’s perspective, no matter what the ulterior motive may be for the bank and halfway house owners, it can be very difficult for ex-offenders to obtain banking services with a criminal record.  It’s almost impossible now days for a person convicted of a felony to get a job, credit, life insurance, housing or most other necessities everyone else enjoys and or takes for granted.

A September 2010 BBC news article claims that banks are providing prisoners in England with checking accounts… “Having a bank account can help stop prisoners re-offending; so should financial institutions be doing more to make them available?” One key problem faced by ex-prisoners is lack of access to a bank account. Without that, employers may be reluctant to give them a job and landlords are sometimes unwilling to rent even a room. Banks do not offer even basic banking facilities to ex-prisoners as they do not have the list of former addresses, identity documents and credit history required.

Prison officials in the BBC story said that “Having a bank account gives them personal identity which then opens doors to employment, to accommodation, to maintaining family ties and for personal enhancement, improving offenders own self-esteem.”

Headquartered in Charleston, W.V., City National Bank has 68 locations throughout West Virginia and in Kentucky and Ohio. The bank has expanded into Walmart Supercenters in various locations, adding greater convenience for customers. Founded in 1957, City Holding today employs approximately 800 professionals.

Inmates living in federal halfway houses have been recently released from prison and reside there from 2 months up to one year. Their crimes range from drugs, sex offenders, bank robbery to money crimes. The time spent inside a halfway house is to allow men and women the opportunity to reintegrate back into society.

Update 10/1/2011...City National Banks General Council, Brace Mullett, contacted WV News and stated that the bank denies the contents of this story. Mullett states that City National employees have only been to Dismas Charities Halfway House on one occasion and it was last year. And, it was at the invitation of Dismas staff. He stated that outside of that one occasion, no authorized representative of City National has been there before or after even though we can confirm at least 8 visits between July 2010 and May 2011.

Mullett denies that there was ever a "makeshift office" (which means - temporary) utilized. He states that there were never any incentives offered or provided to Dismas. That overdraft protection does not require a credit check and that $800 is not the limit for that service.  Bottom line, City National only admits to being at Dismas one time to enlist customer accounts, and it happened to be the exact same day the former resident of Dismas (referred to above) opened his checking account.

Our stance? We stand behind this story 100% and its contents. And that we would welcome any civil action that City National would entertain so that the true facts can come out. By federal law, Dismas keeps accurate records, logs and video tapes of all visitors coming and going on while there.  Not to mention all of the other former residents who opened their bank accounts when City National Employees were at Dismas soliciting accounts.

In Closing…

Under the right guidelines, this could be a positive move for prisoners and banks. But, under the current program that City National Bank offers, it appears on the surface that bank officials are giving away the farm with no collateral.

Everyone would like to have their banks best services available; from free gold card checking-savings, lines of credit and or top of the line overdraft protection. 
But, do you have to go to prison first to be eligible for these perks?

End Of Story….

Jack Swint - Publisher
WV News 2011
(304) 982-7024
Twitter:  @WVNewsOnline


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