Protesters picket Wells Fargo meeting, six arrested

SAN FRANCISCO Tue Apr 24, 2012 4:13pm EDT

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Police in riot gear arrested six people on Tuesday as protesters with a huge inflated rat sought to disrupt a Wells Fargo & Co (WFC.N) annual shareholder meeting to express anger over foreclosures, executive compensation and corporate taxes.

Several of those arrested were handcuffed and taken away in police vans as hundreds more chanted and waved signs outside the meeting in a building across from the bank's San Francisco headquarters.

"Banks are big and greedy," protester Julia Cheng said. "They only care about themselves."

Protesters gathered on a street corner near an inflated rat that had dollar bills coming from side pockets. They held signs that read: "99 percent take over, topple the 1 percent", and "Up with the people, down with the bankers." Police confirmed six arrests for trespassing.

Activist groups are targeting corporate stockholder meetings this spring to draw attention to economic disparity in the United States and to promote a variety of other causes.

A group called 99% Power, a reference to those not among the top 1 percent of earners, has said it plans actions at 36 shareholder meetings, starting with Wells Fargo.

It said it was demanding that Wells Fargo Chief Executive John Stumpf resign and that the bank halt foreclosures pending investigation and reform.

Wells Fargo has emerged from the financial crisis as one of the healthier U.S. banks, and it has expanded across the United States after buying North Carolina-based Wachovia Corp in 2008.

The bank is the largest U.S. mortgage originator and servicer, making it a target for protesters who say lenders have poorly treated struggling borrowers. Wells was one of five big lenders to agree this year to a $25 billion national mortgage settlement over foreclosure abuses.

Wells Fargo spokesman Ancel Martinez said the bank works hard to keep homeowners in their homes and that fewer than 2 percent of its owner-occupied homes have gone into foreclosure over the past year.

At the shareholder meeting, investors will get a chance to ratify or reject the bank's executive compensation plan and vote on a proposal to split the chairman and CEO roles held by Stumpf.

Last week, shareholders delivered a rebuke to Citigroup Inc's (C.N) management when they gave a surprising vote of no confidence to the bank's executive compensation plan.

(Additional reporting by Malathi Nayak; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; editing by Andre Grenon)

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