A former Wells Fargo Advisors financial adviser in Washington, D.C., says she was fired for cooperating with the company’s investigation of her supervisor.
Pamela Bolanis filed a whistle-blower complaint with the Labor Department on May 24 that accused her boss, Christopher Sargent, of retaliating against her and then firing her because she was helping Wells Fargo Advisors in an investigation into his client investments and other suspect activities.
She claims Sargent invested his elderly clients’ assets in risky stocks and broke other securities laws, including possible insider trading violations.
The human resources department refused to take action to stop the retaliation and the compliance department told her that the Securities and Exchange Commission wouldn’t be interested in the insider trading allegations because “no one made a lot of money,” according to the complaint.
Sargent and Wells Fargo spokesman Tony Mattera said Bolanis’ claims are “without merit.”
“The firm and I vigorously dispute her allegations and intend to challenge them in the appropriate forum,” Sargent said in an interview. He said adjudicating the case “in the media” is not the right approach. News of the complaint was first revealed in a Washington Post story July 24.
Bolanis, 36, who was the senior vice president of investments in the Sargent Investment Group of Wells Fargo Advisors, alleges that Wells asked her in March 2010 to help it review whether Sargent was putting his elderly clients in thinly traded penny stocks and micro-caps.
Her information was used to identify 65 times where investors over age 65 had “unsuitable investment objectives listed,” the complaint said. She also told Wells Fargo about other alleged compliance breaches, such as Mr. Sargent’s buying securities he wasn’t supposed to, and suspected insider trading violations.
Wells Fargo instructed Sargent to fix the accounts but didn’t follow through with the resolution plan, according to the complaint.
Bolanis repeatedly told Wells Fargo she was “suffering the consequences of retaliation,” such as being excluded from client meetings, defamation, being accused of lying, being told to see a psychotherapist or psychiatrist, and having accounts taken away, the complaint said.
“Wells Fargo and Sargent can deny things all they want, but they know what they did. We will see how their denials hold up under cross-examination,” said Jason Archinaco, Bolanis’ attorney of Pribanic Pribanic and Archinaco.
A copy of the termination notice signed by Sargent cited concerns about Bolanis’ performance, treatment of three female colleagues and “fundamental disagreements about the terms of our business arrangement.”
Bolanis joined Merrill Lynch Wealth Management in June and is based in Washington.