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Dysart Willis

Under corporate investigations, individuals need personal counsel

Your company being under federal investigation is not a pleasant thing to contemplate. One of the most positive things one might be able to say about such a situation is that the process of a federal probe tends to be rather transparent. When under investigation, you will generally know very early on. That makes it possible to become proactive on defense.

For example, a well-known bank with major operations here in North Carolina is feeling the focus of scrutiny from regulators in Washington. We suspect few readers are unaware of the heat being directed at Wells Fargo. The company's CEO took a verbal thrashing from members of Congress this week. Prior to that, regulators announced that the institution would pay $185 million in fines for alleged customer fraud.

The fines against the bank didn't come out of nowhere. They came at the end of a probe that started as far back as 2013. And you can be sure that the company's corporate lawyers worked on resolving the matter all that time.

Meanwhile, in a separate appearance before members of the Senate Banking Committee, the head of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency said his agency is considering action against individual's in Wells Fargo's executive ranks. That could result in some individuals being banned from the banking industry for life.

In addition, the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, while not offering specific confirmation, implied his agency has already referred some Wells Fargo officials for prosecution and U.S. attorneys in this state, and two others say they are continuing to investigate.

Individuals facing this kind of scrutiny as part of a corporate probe need to be aware that their interests and those of the company may not align. Where they diverge, individuals need to fend for themselves. Consulting skilled legal counsel is therefore recommended.