Wells Fargo and NJ cops had wrong man arrested, pastor says
A Morris County pastor has filed a lawsuit for defamation and other charges against Wells Fargo and the State Police after a months-long ordeal in which he found himself accused of an ATM check fraud case in September only to have the forgery charge dismissed in January.
The Rev. Jeffrey Edwards, of the United Methodist Church of Parsippany, said a parishioner texted him in July 2018 telling him he "had a twin" along with a link to the State Police page on Facebook. He said he looked at bank security images on the post that he recognized as himself, at his local ATM at the Wells Fargo on Route 46, and saw that the images had already been shared 466 times in less than a day of being posted.
Edwards said his mind "exploded with the implications" and the damage being done to his reputation as a minister. He said he called the detective handling the apparent forgery of checks and said there had to be a mistake.
The State Police had been investigating the April 2018 deposit of several thousand dollars in fraudulent checks into the account of a Neptune woman named Tyler Mathis.
The lawsuit said the same day in July 2018 that the photos of Edwards were posted by State Police to Facebook, investigators had already gotten a confession from Mathis. The lawsuit said she described a collaborator as a "dark-skinned black male" who she said would deposit the checks so they could split the money.
Edwards' lawsuit said the day after the fake checks were deposited in Parsippany, another transaction was made at a Wells Fargo branch in Glen Ridge, where a security photo showed a man who fit the description given by Mathis.
While State Police were sent the Glen Ridge photo in August 2018, Edwards said he was asked to visit the Holmdel police in September 2018 and was arrested there on a charge of forgery.
Edwards said he hired his lawyer and he then started to see what he called an "absurd" case against him. The lawsuit also said that State Police told Mathis she was a “victim of a check fraud scam.”
A judge dismissed that charge in January.
Edwards said he still maintains a checking account with Wells Fargo, as he wants the bank to know that he remains a customer to whom they have a responsibility to serve. He said he can't be sure of whether he would continue that relationship should his lawsuit be resolved.
He said one of his biggest concerns is for the system to be fixed so that such a technological error does not falsely implicate another innocent customer.
"We were recently served with the complaint and are reviewing it," Wells Fargo spokesman Kevin Friedlander said Thursday. "Since this is a pending legal matter, we are unable to comment any further."
In response to an email request from New Jersey 101.5, State Police Major Brian Polite said "as standing procedure, we do not comment on pending litigation."
Wells Fargo has dealt with repeated fines and settlements for illegal banking practices, since 2015 when it acknowledged that employees had opened millions of fake bank accounts for customers in order to meet sales goals.
In 2016, illegal banking practices cost Wells Fargo $185 million in fines, including a $100 million penalty from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Two years later, Wells Fargo was fined $1 billion by two federal regulators for forcing customers into car insurance and charging mortgage borrowers unfair fees. The 2018 fines were announced by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.
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