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Bank of America resolves complaints of anti-Muslim bias by former Fleet Bank

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Copyright 2006 Associated Press
All Rights Reserved
The Associated Press State & Local Wire
April 12, 2006 Wednesday 9:59 PM GMT
*SECTION:* STATE AND REGIONAL
*LENGTH:* 636 words
*HEADLINE:* Bank of America resolves complaints of anti-Muslim bias by former Fleet Bank
*BYLINE:* By MARK JEWELL, AP Business Writer
*DATELINE:* BOSTON
*BODY:*
Bank of America Corp. has agreed to resolve allegations by Arab and Muslim groups that the former Fleet Bank discriminated against 15 customers with Arabic names by closing their accounts in 2002 and 2003 over suspicions of terrorism or money laundering.
Although a state investigation found no evidence of discrimination, Bank of America agreed to take steps including paying the state $50,000 to create a brochure and video on consumer finance geared toward Arab-American and Muslim communities.
Attorney General Tom Reilly, who announced the agreement Wednesday, also said the bank will name a senior vice president as a liaison to local Arab-Americans and Muslims.
The bank, which acquired Boston-based Fleet in 2004 for $48 billion, also assured that it will only close customer accounts as a result of terrorism or money laundering concerns after carefully reviewing information supplied to the bank.
Reilly’s office also will organize a training program for the Charlotte, N.C.-based bank to increase awareness among its Massachusetts employees about Arab-American culture and the Muslim religion.
A Bank of America spokesman said the Fleet accounts were not closed because of discrimination, but because of patterns of account activity that triggered money laundering suspicions.
“In this instance, as in any case of this nature, Fleet followed standard industry practices dictated by federal regulations and guidelines designed to protect institutions and individuals against money laundering, including terrorism,” spokesman Ernesto Anguilla said.
Anguilla said the bank was “pleased” to work with Reilly’s office on the projects spelled out in the agreement.
*The pact resulted from complaints in 2003 and a “Fleet Flight Campaign” organized by the American Arab **Anti-Discrimination Committee** of Massachusetts and the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation.*
Without explanation, Fleet sent letters to five Muslim customers in November 2002 indicating the bank was closing their accounts, the two groups that waged the campaign said Wednesday.
The five had been longtime customers, and were in good standing with the bank, the groups said. Three months later, Fleet sent similar account termination letters to 15 others, although five of those accounts ultimately weren’t closed.
The groups said hundreds of Fleet customers sympathetic to the campaign subsequently closed their accounts in protest, and campaign organizers urged Reilly’s office to investigate.
The state never filed a complaint against Fleet or Bank of America, and a news release from Reilly’s office said its investigation “did not show a pattern of discrimination against customers with Arab and South Asian descent.”
The investigation found only 5 percent of all Fleet account closures related to terrorism or money laundering suspicions in the Northeastern United States involved customers with such names.
“I commend Bank of America for taking steps to build a long-term positive relationship with members of the Arab-American and Muslim community,” Reilly said.
The two groups that launched the campaign against Fleet said in a statement that they are “looking forward to building bridges with Bank of America and establishing a constructive working relationship on behalf of the community.”
Hamza Pelletier, a Boston chapter spokesman for the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation, said the group was still trying to gather information Wednesday about the account closures.
“We don’t have all of the specific details as to why the accounts were closed,” Pelletier said.
Bank of America has agreed to inform three of the four former Fleet customers who complained about account terminations that they are welcome to reopen the accounts, Reilly said.
Bank spokesman Anguilla declined to comment on invididual cases, citing privacy restrictions.
*LOAD-DATE:* April 13, 2006