Sunday, March 18, 2012

How Whistleblower Linda Almonte Halted JPMorgan Chase's Card Collections

No sooner did Linda Almonte show up for work on November 30, 2009 than was she escorted out the door by security at JPMorgan Chase's Credit Card Litigation Support Group in San Antonio. A midlevel Chase executive who oversaw business process execution employees, Almonte says she was fired after just six months on the job for challenging her superiors about the accuracy of the bank's credit card records.

Colleagues first learned of her dismissal later in the day when operations manager Jason Lazinbat, Almonte's former boss, gathered bank staff in a conference room and announced she was no longer with the bank. Under no circumstances, Lazinbat warned, were staffers to communicate with Almonte, recalls Carole McGinn, a quality control worker who spent 14 years at Chase. The account was confirmed by second employee, who requested to speak anonymously.

"It was an unusual statement," McGinn says. "Other people had left the bank, and we were not told" to cut off contact with them.

The contentious nature of Almonte's departure was a prelude to a series of events that serve as a cautionary tale for the banking industry. The former mid-level staffer eventually filed a whistleblower suit and complaints with regulators that accused Chase of a range of lapses over three years. They include: failure to reconcile the inconsistent past-due balances generated by the bank's computer systems; pressure from management to collect delinquent debts even in the absence of complete or accurate records; and robosigning of affidavits that brings into question the legal integrity of Chase's claims against tens of thousands of consumers.

Many of Almonte's accusations are backed by internal bank documents and current and former employees. What's more, they've forced Chase to cease operations in a collections unit that had previously generated billions of dollars in annual revenues.

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