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ADC Comments on Ethnic Bias Complaints at Bank

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Copyright 2006 Globe Newspaper Company
The Boston Globe
April 13, 2006 Thursday
THIRD EDITION
*SECTION:* BUSINESS; Pg. D4
*LENGTH:* 427 words
*HEADLINE:* BANK MOVES TO RESOLVE COMPLAINTS OF ETHNIC BIAS; OFFERS TO REOPEN THE ACCOUNTS OF 3 ARAB-AMERICANS
*BYLINE:* BY ROSS KERBER, GLOBE STAFF
*BODY:*
Bank of America Corp. will offer to reopen the accounts of three Arab-American customers that were closed in 2002 on suspicion of terrorism or money laundering, Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly said yesterday.
The offer drew praise from local Arab and Muslim leaders, who have long complained about the unexplained bank-account closures. The step was part of an agreement that resolves complaints from four people who alleged they were discriminated against because of their ethnicity by Fleet Bank, later purchased by Bank of America.
A spokeswoman for Reilly said an investigation of the bank’s actions “did not show a pattern of discrimination against customers of Arab or South Asian descent.” Only 5 percent of all the accounts Fleet closed on suspicion of terrorism or money laundering in the Northeast were held by customers with Arab or South Asian names, she said.
A Bank of America spokeswoman said that Fleet “followed standard industry practices” at the time.
The bank also agreed to pay $50,000 to Reilly’s office to create consumer-education material aimed at the Arab-American and Muslim communities.
Neither Reilly’s office nor the bank would discuss the closed accounts in much detail. *But Merrie Najimy, president of the Massachusetts chapter of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee,** said the matter began when it first complained to Reilly’s office about roughly 15 accounts the bank closed without explanation in 2002 and 2003.
She said several of those accounts were held by employees of Ptech Inc., a Quincy software firm whose offices were searched by federal authorities as part of a broader terror-financing investigation.*
They believed that was the likely reason for the accounts being closed, though none of them were ever charged with wrongdoing.
Of the account holders, four were willing to reveal complete financial details about themselves to Reilly’s investigators, she said. Of those four, the bank was willing to offer to reopen the accounts of three.
The Bank of America spokeswoman said she would not discuss the case of the fourth person, citing privacy concerns.
Yesterday, Imam Talal Eid, a director of the Islamic Institute of Boston, praised the settlement and called it an “indirect acknowledgement” by the bank that the account closings were wrong.
Organizations “need to know that American Muslims cannot be blindly linked to terrorists,” Eid said.
“If a person was suspected, that doesn’t mean that the person was guilty. We investigate. We live in America.”
Ross Kerber can be reached at kerber@globe.com