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Tavis Smiley Issues New Statement on Wells Fargo

As TWI has reported, Wells Fargo & Co. teamed up with talk show host and commentator Tavis Smiley for “Wealth Building” seminars in black neighborhoods beginning in 2005. A suit by the Illinois attorney general contends Wells used the seminars to market high-cost and risky subprime loans to minority borrowers.

Smiley declined any comment for our story. On Friday, he told Richard Prince, author of the Maynard Institute’s “Journal-isms” column, that he has severed all ties with Wells Fargo until charges that the company unfairly steered African American borrowers into costly subprime mortgages are resolved. “I cut everything off with Wells Fargo,” Smiley told Prince.

Prince noted that Smiley’s comments came as TWI’s story “circulated.”

Today, Smiley has a new posting on his Website regarding his business relationship with Wells Fargo, saying that he severed his ties to the bank earlier this year, and not in recent days.

In his latest statement, Smiley says he actually made that decision in “the first quarter of this year,” some time “shortly after the State of the Black Union” and announced it then in a statement he posted on his Website.

The undated pdf file, which was not issued as a press release, notes that “Wells Fargo currently is not a sponsor of TSG or Tavis Smiley Foundation programs or events and will not be a sponsor for SOBU for 2010.” Wells had sponsored the State of the Black Union 2009, which was held on February 27-28. According to C-SPAN footage, Smiley lauded the bank at the symposium, telling the predominantly African American audience that “Wells Fargo is your financial action planning guide to every stage of life.” Later that day Smiley praised Wells Fargo for its generosity and said, “This conference is free this year because of Wells Fargo. Give them some love.”

On Friday, Smiley told Prince that Wells Fargo sponsored Smiley’s radio show on Public Radio International, and underwrote the annual C-SPAN-televised “State of the Black Union” conference that Smiley organizes. Smiley’s foundation also distributed Wells Fargo materials to young people at foundation events, he told Prince. Smiley also said the move to end his relationship with Wells cost “a lot of money,” but he said he did not know how much.

In the new statement, Smiley says that “I addressed this issue months ago with a statement on my website during the first quarter of this year when allegations against Wells Fargo first surfaced.”

The NAACP filed suits against Wells Fargo and HSBC on March 13, alleging racial discrimination in lending.

TWI cited Smiley’s earlier statement regarding his relationship with Wells in its story last week. Smiley has declined any additional comment.

This post has been updated.

*You can follow TWI on Twitter and Facebook. *

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