A jury in federal court in St. Paul handed Wells Fargo & Co. a victory Thursday, clearing the bank of liability for the losses several plaintiffs suffered in its former securities lending program.
The San Francisco-based bank, which had marketed the program to institutional investors such as pension funds, was sued in 2011 by a group of 13 investors claiming the bank mismanaged the program and lied about the safety of the investments. The bank had argued that the unit had a good track record until the financial crisis hit.
Ten jurors took about a day and a half to reach their verdict after a seven-week trial.
Wells Fargo issued a statement Thursday saying the verdict supports its position that the investments were “prudent and suitable.”
“Wells Fargo worked very hard and responsibly to achieve the best results for all participants in the securities lending program during extremely difficult economic conditions,” Wells Fargo spokeswoman Peggy Gunn said in a statement.
Gunn said the Wells Fargo securities lending program had losses averaging approximately 3 percent at the same time the markets were down up to 50 percent during the height of the financial crisis.
There are least three other ongoing lawsuits in Minnesota over the bank’s former multibillion-dollar securities lending program, which was run out of Minneapolis.
The jury trial was focused on claims by just six of a group of 13 institutional investors that originally sued Wells Fargo in 2011, those that are not covered by the federal Employees Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).
The six, who had claimed they suffered $8.2 million in losses, included the North Memorial Health Care Pension Plan and the Jerome Foundation in St. Paul, among others.
U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank is currently hearing the claims of the plaintiffs covered by ERISA, a group that includes the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota Pension Equity Plan.
Wells Fargo lost a similar case in 2010 after a trial in Ramsey County District Court. In that case the jury awarded nearly $30 million in damages to four charitable foundations, with total payments reaching about $57 million. That verdict was upheld on appeal.
Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi represented investors in both lawsuits.
“I respect the jury system, but the verdict doesn’t square with either the evidence or the previous jury’s finding of fraud, which was upheld by the Court of Appeals,” lawyer Mike Ciresi said Thursday.
The lending program involved securities, which were mostly shares of stock, that investors kept in custodial accounts at the bank. The bank would lend the securities to third-party brokers who used the shares for their own trading and then paid Wells Fargo cash collateral that Wells Fargo in turn would invest. Those investments were the ones at issue in the case. When the brokers returned the stock, Wells Fargo repaid the cash collateral.
Wells Fargo sold its ClearLend securities lending operation to Citigroup Inc. in 2011.