Identity theft victim or ringleader? What happened to this former Wells Fargo employee to cause her to be arrested for identity theft and could it happen to you?
The Short Story
Margot Somerville, 64, is a retired Wells Fargo vice president. She’s the mother of Todd Harris, a well know Republican strategist. Somerville has never been accused of a crime before in her life and displays her Republican pride with photos of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and President George W. H. Bush in the entrance to her home.
So why is Margot Somerville in the news?
Somerville was arrested and taken from her Walnut Creek home in hand cuffs this past year. She was charged with 19 felonies, including felony identity theft on a no-bail warrant out of Colorado. Someone had stolen over $60,000 and police in Colorado believed Somerville was part of the scam.
We’ll skip to the chase and let you know that the charges against Margot Somerville have been dropped. But how is it that the retired Wells Fargo vice president, who claims that she is innocent, came under fire for identity theft?
Somerville says that during an outing to San Francisco with seven friends from her bridge club that a pickpocket on a San Francisco streetcar, BART, stole her wallet in 2006.
She reported the theft of her wallet, credit cards and Wells Fargo ATM card to the San Francisco police. Soon after, there was a $45.00 charge to U.P.S. and then not another peep of fraudulent activity for 5 months. Then Somerville noticed money missing from her bank account and her son noticed money missing from an account he shared with his mother as well. A bank investigation showed that $20,000 was missing from the accounts.
Somerville blames both Wells Fargo and the police for her eventual arrest.
“In my heart, I never knew anything like this could happen,” Somerville said of her arrest.
Prosecutors in Wheat Town, Colorado, near Denver say…
Prosecutors say that Somerville masterminded a scam and women who had Somerville’s i.d. and stolen checks and bank withdrawal slips stole over $60,000 from Wells Fargo banks from other people’s accounts. Despite the fact that the charges were eventually dropped, police still claim that they believe it is Somerville’s signature on some of the forged documents and that they don’t think it was a mistake to arrest her.
Even after the charges were dropped, Pam Russell, the district attorney’s spokeswoman, claims that the case was dropped because “we no longer believed that we had a successful likelihood of conviction,” she said.
Wells Fargo says…
Well Fargo’s response has been that the bank cooperated with both law enforcement and Somerville’s attorneys and that they are happy that the charges against Somerville were dropped.
The Denver area branches acknowledge that it is not Margot Somerville on the security camera tapes but bank managers have said that the bank did follow policy for approving withdrawals claiming that the women had Somerville’s driver’s license, knew Somerville’s social security number and the branch at which she had opened the account.
Just the Facts:
*It was actually Somerville, who unhappy with the bank’s response, who first went the Wheat Ridge police who later decided she was the ringleader of a scam.
*Wells Fargo eventually refunded the $20,000 to Somerville’s accounts.
*Somerville twice provided handwriting samples, which police said “didn’t rule her out as a suspect” and handwriting experts hired by police concluded that Somerville had in fact signed some of the fraudulent documents.
*Somerville was arrested, had a mug shot taken, was shackled to another female prisoner and taken to jail.
*She was released the next day but days later flew to Colorado where she was booked and fingerprinted.
*No other arrests were ever made in the identity theft case.
*Somerville submitted to a lie detector test, which she passed.
*The documents in question were tested for her fingerprints and were not found.
* In October Somerville’s attorney wrote the district attorney’s office asking them to drop the charges. The case was based “solely on handwriting analysis,” she argued, “which in this day and age of sophisticated identity theft rings … means absolutely nothing.”
* In November the district attorney’s office dropped the case.
How does an identity theft victim become a target for criminal suspicion?
Linda Sherry of the nonprofit group Consumer Action said it’s actually not uncommon for people who make identity theft complaints to find that they are the ones being investigated.
Sherry says, “Banks sometimes tend to want to blame the victim first. They always want to see if someone in your family or someone with access to you committed the fraud – and a lot of identity theft is committed by people who know the victim.”
However Sherry adds, “I have never heard of a local police agency going to these lengths to blame the victim,” she said. “It doesn’t make sense that this agency would use its limited resources to build a case against the very victim of the crime.”
The Federal Trade Commission urges victim’s identity theft to take these four steps:
*Put a fraud alert on your credit reports.
*Close accounts that you believe “have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.”
* File a complaint with the FTC. You can even use an online complaint form.
* Contact your police department and report your identity theft.
Somerville is said to be considering whether or not to sue the bank, the police and prosecutors. He son, Todd Harris is still not content with explanations from either party and remains very angry.