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'Somebody should go to jail' for Wells Fargo scandal, says Sen. Heitkamp

  • There should be changes to criminal law to prevent another scandal like that at Wells Fargo, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., told CNBC.
  • "I think somebody should go to jail," Heitkamp said.
  • The senator, who grilled Wells Fargo CEO during the senate hearing on Tuesday, said she was "absolutely not" satisfied with what she heard.

There should be changes to criminal law to require more responsibility from those at the top in order to prevent another scandal like that at Wells Fargo, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., told CNBC on Wednesday.

"Obviously people think that 'as long as I didn't know I'm not going to suffer the ultimate consequence,' which is white-collar crime," she said in an interview with "Power Lunch."

"If we can start developing a level of personal responsibility of corporate leadership with the ultimate penalty being a criminal prosecution, we'll see changes in terms of the duty to know."

Wells Fargo has admitted employees enrolled customers in programs without their knowledge in an effort to meet aggressive sales goals. About 3.5 million accounts were affected.

"I think somebody should go to jail," Heitkamp said.

When asked who that would be, she didn't name names, but said, "The person who is the most culpable for making the decisions."

In a follow-up email, Heitkamp's spokesperson said: "The Head of Community Banking withheld information until way too late in the game and did not talk to senior leadership about the systemic failures in her division. Senator Heitkamp believes that in cases like this, there should be real criminal fines and penalties for the individual that did not report the problems."

A Wells Fargo board investigation laid blame for the scandal on a high-pressure sales culture and former community banking head Carrie Tolstedt, who was accused of ignoring the systematic nature of the abusive sales practices.

Lawyers for Tolstedt rejected those findings, saying "a full and fair examination of the facts will produce a different conclusion."

Her attorney, Enu Mainigi, had no comment on Heitkamp's remarks.

'Absolutely not' satisfied

Heitkamp was among those who grilled Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan about the scandal during Tuesday's Senate Banking Committee hearing.

At the hearing, Sen. Elizabeth Warren demanded Sloan be fired, saying, "at best you were incompetent, at worst you were complicit."

Sloan said he believes the bank was making strides in restoring its reputation and promised more changes are on the way.

Heitkamp said whether or not Sloan should be fired is up to Wells Fargo, but said she was "absolutely not" satisfied with what she heard at Tuesday's hearing.

For one, Sloan said Wells Fargo wouldn't force arbitration on people who had false accounts set up, and then when questioned about a forced arbitration case in Utah, said he didn't know about it, she said.

"There's one of two things. Either he does know and he's not telling us or he's really woefully ill-prepared and he doesn't see the next scandal coming along," she said.

What Heitkamp wants to see is a change in corporate culture, where you don't hear executives saying they're not familiar about things having to do with the "big, big problems that they have."

"What we did here is 'we're really, really big and we represent a lot of people and just trust us.' And that boat left the shore a long time ago. There isn't going to be any more 'trust us.'"

— CNBC's Jeff Cox and Reuters contributed to this report.