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Did performance goals lead Wells Fargo employees to commit fraud?

We all feel pressure from our employers to perform well at our jobs. But what happens when that pressure goes too far? In the case of Wells Fargo, many employees claim that was what drove them to commit fraud.

It wasn't just a few employees who created sham accounts to up their sales numbers. In fact, Wells Fargo reports that they have fired at least 5,300 employees for this behavior since 2011. Despite this staggering number, Wells Fargo executives deny any liability for this behavior, claiming it is not due to the company's aggressive sales structure but a group of unethical workers.

Many former employees, however, have a different opinion than the company execs. Despite having ethics training sessions to discourage fraudulent behavior, there was also a push to meet demanding sales goals or face dire consequences.

"The branch managers were always asking, 'How many solutions did you sell today?'" Sharif Kellogg, who used to work in a Wells Fargo branch in Catonsville, Maryland, said in a recent New York Times article. "They wanted three to four a day. In my mind, that was crazy -- that's not how people's financial lives work."

This is not the first time Wells Fargo has been in the media spotlight for unethical behavior. In 2013, the L.A. Times reported on "Wells Fargo's pressure-cooker sales culture." The article mentions the same types of unrealistic sales goals and the pressure to sell unnecessary products to customers. Those employees who fell short of the goals would be fired. Given the choice between committing fraud and losing their jobs, many employees chose what they felt was their only option.

Upon allegations of corporate wrong-doing, there is the possibility that management, employees and the corporation may attempt to shift blame. Ultimately, the corporation is responsible for the conduct of its officers and employees. A corporation may face large fines and penalties that can be hundreds of millions of dollars. The Department of Justice's policy is to seek large settlements from major corporations and to prosecute employees and officers for illegal conduct.

A corporation as well as its officers, directors, and employees have a right to be represented at all stages of a criminal investigation. A lawyer experienced in white-collar defense should be retained at the earliest opportunity upon learning of a criminal investigation. Employees, officers and directors must realize that an attorney representing the business is not their attorney.