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Saturday, November 7, 2015

Does Character Matter?, Part 1 of 2

Under a Microscope

You may have noticed that some of our earliest posts are being republished. The reason for this is because we've initiated a review to primarily correct formatting issues that occurred when we changed publishing platforms in 2013. At no fault of our own, some of the posts could not be simply updated and required being republished. 

Our review provided an opportunity to reread information we published over the past six years. One unexpected result is having re-discovered incidents that we'd forgotten about and realizing the accuracy of some of our earliest warnings about what might happen if Priority One Credit Union's President, Charles R. Wiggington, Sr.'s behaviors and abuses were not reined in. 

We've also re-discovered that from the date he became President on January 1, 2007, Charles R. Wiggington, Sr. chose to intentionally neglect security protocols designed to protect credit union and member assets. It is this disdain for protocol that we believe culminated in a series of vault thefts of cash at the Los Angeles branch during the years of 2010 through 2012, which totaled more than $1 million

Having spent days and many hours rereading our posts left us even more perplexed as to why the Board of Directors and actually, it's Board Chair, Diedra Harris-Brooks, has fought so fervently to ensure Charles R. Wiggington. Sr. remains President and CEO. What is also evident is that the theft of $1 million in cash would never have occurred had the Supervisory Committee under leadership of its Chair, Cornelia Simmons, chosen to carryout their assigned responsibilities.  The thefts were avoidable and though CUMIS, the insurance carrier, has filed a lawsuit accusing the external auditor, Turner, Warren, Hwang and Conrad of negligent auditing practices that they allege, caused the thefts to go unnoticed, the fact is, if Priority One Credit Union had ensured all security protocols were being performed, the thefts would have been discovered early on. 

What CUMIS and Priority One hope a court will believe is that Turner, Warren, Hwang and Conrad, who were contracted to perform annual audits, failed to discover that thefts were being perpetrated, allegedly, by a single AVP. What they hope to avoid is the responsibility the credit union had to ensure all security protocols were in place and being performed; and draw attention away from the fact that the Supervisory Committee, the Board of Directors, the President, two former COO's, the CFO, and the Accounting Department never noticed a discrepancy between the Los Angeles branch's vault records the Accounting Department's records. 

The credit union has remained unusually quiet about the AVP, who allegedly absconded with $1 million in cash. If security measures were being practiced, then how could one woman enter the vault each week over a 24-month period, and abscond with more than $1 million. We're certain other credit unions would like to know how this was done so that they can implement measures that would deter this from occurring at their organizations. 


And what has happened with the case against Pearl Lynnette Fortson, the AVP, who allegedly and single-handedly perpetrated the theft of more than $1 million without being observed by any of the tellers, FSR's or receptionist assigned to the Los Angeles branch.

A search of the Superior Court's records show that her bankruptcy filings continues under review. We've yet to find anything indicated that she's being prosecuted or that she was ever arrested. CUMIS has clearly not demonstrated the level of aggressiveness shown against the external auditor, Turner, Warren, Hwang and Conrad who they hold responsible for the thefts despite the conspicuous fact that the external auditor was not involved in the perpetration of any of the thefts that occurred during the years of 2010 through 2012; nor was the external auditor responsible for ensuring security protocols were being maintained. At present, the former AVP is scheduled to attend a status conference regarding her bankruptcy filing. The conference will take place on January 28, 2016, at 8:30 a.m. in department 58 at the Superior Court of Los Angeles, California to 


According to the credit union and CUMIS' statement to a reporter, the thefts were carefully camouflaged by Ms. Fortson who allegedly altered the vault's ledger. So does Priority One accept in faith the accuracy of everything that is entered into vault ledgers without conducting verification procedures? 

In reviewing past posts, we've rediscovered that during the May 2009 Annual Meeting, the President stated that he was reducing spending, "streamling", and "working smarter." His chronic failures and a series of large thefts occurring at the Los Angeles branch suggest that he knows nothing about "working smarter" and his alleged expense reductions have come at a cost to the workforce who continue to be subjected to a more than five-year wage freeze and who are rarely promoted while the President's so-called efforts are designed not to affect the salaries and benefits paid to credit union executives. Currently, the President continues to receive more than $150,000 per year plus annual bonuses. At Priority One Credit Union, the incompetent Board of Directors rewards incompetency and dishonesty and has gone out of its way to ensure that the man who was found guilty of sexual harassment in 2008, remains President and CEO.


Our recent review of past posts has rediscovered a large amount of information regarding past incidents occurring in the years since Charles R. Wiggington, Sr. was appointed President. Some of the incidents relate directly to Priority One Credit Union's security protocols and reveal that since January 1, 2007, President Wiggington has often refused to abide to credit union policies created to ensure the safety of assets and other incidents reveal the abuses perpetrated against employees who discovered that some of the credit union's officers had not adhered to required state and federal protocols and standards. 

The following account occurred at Priority One Credit Union's Van Nuys branch in 2007, the same year Charles R. Wiggington. Sr. began his appointment as President. 

The account consists of several incidents involving a new hired Branch Manager who was to oversee management of the Van Nuys branch. 

At the time the Branch Manager was hired, AVP, Rodger Smock, who is also the Director of Human Resources, issued fliers to all employees announcing the hiring of the new Branch Manager and descried him as a highly experienced and knowledgeable officer who would contribute to the success of the Van Nuys branch. 

Unfortunately, the highly competent manager would soon become a victim of President Wiggington's treacherous political system. What the following account reveals is that President Wiggington does not tolerate anyone who discovers that he and his staff have violated the credit union's own policies and state and federal laws laws. What the account also shows is that at Priority One Credit Union, dishonesty and incompetence are awarded and even protected as we witnessed in 2008, when evidence that the President sexually harassed a former employee, was squashed by the Board of Directors and the President's employment, retained. Here is the account: 

The Spider's Lair, Part 1, February 25, 2009

 Slander and Harassment 

In February 2007, Priority One Credit Union hired D. Centeno to replace former Van Nuys Branch Manager, Sylvia Perez, who had been promoted to Assistant Vice President ("AVP") and transferred to the Burbank branch. 

Director of Human Resources, AVP, Rodger Smock, produced and distributed fliers to all branches announcing the hiring of Mr. Centeno who according to Mr. Smock, possessed extensive banking experience and qualities which the credit union believed would contribute to increasing new business throughout the San Fernando Valley. Those who came to know Mr. Centeno described him as the consummate professional, possessing tremendous knowledge of banking procedures.

Under Priority One's procedures and policies, all new managers and before they can begin working at their assigned branch, must attend classes conducted at the main branch in South Pasadena. The classes orientate managers to the credit union's philosophy, mission, policies and procedures. Because of training, Mr. Centeno did not report to work at the Van Nuys branch for approximately 2 weeks. 

When Mr. Centeno did finally report to the Van Nuys branch, he almost immediately experienced difficulties with the branches two most senior employees, Neelam Verma, the Assistant Branch Manager, and Lillian Valladares, an FSR. 

The relationship between Mr. Centeno and the two employees grew strained when he discovered they were not following state mandated banking procedures and violating state law. What's more, they were leaving the credit union vulnerable to potential losses. 

Mr. Centeno also discovered that Mrs. Valladares was arbitrarily reversing NSF fees without first obtaining authorization from her supervisor. He also discovered that Mrs. Valladares had frequently failed to review mandated ATM and NSF reports. 

The two employees contacted Mrs. Perez who they had worked under for several years, and accused Mr. Centeno of being unduly difficult. Mrs. Perez grew irate because the issues Mr. Centeno discovered were all attributable to her. While serving as Branch Manager, she never taught her staff proper, state-mandated procedures. What's more,  she had allowed them to violate credit union banking policies. 

After Mrs. Valladares and Mrs. Verma complained to Mrs. Perez, the AVP drove to the Van Nuys office and during her meeting with Mr. Centeno, informed him that "the knowledge your brought from your former corporate environment will not be tolerated." 

Fueled by anger and we suspect, a fear that the credit union would discover that she failed to implement to provide her staff with the proper training and knowledge needed to carryout their assigned responsibilities. Mrs. Perez next launched a scathing attack against Mr. Centeno, fabricating accusations which disparaged his abilities and which AVP, Rodger Smock, allowed her to use in sealing Mr. Centeno's ouster. 

Mrs. Perez has established a well-earned reputation for having little self-control. She is known to be hyper, nervous, emotionally volatile, aggressive, impatient and highly vindictive. She also likes to declare that she is highly religious bit her alleged religiosity is not attested to by her behaviors. 


Despite the irrational response by Mrs. Valladares and Mrs. Verman, Mr. Centeno tried to resolve the differences with the two women but they refused, remaining uncooperative with their new supervisor. 

Mr. Centeno contacted Mrs. Perez and asked if she could schedule to meet with him, Mrs. Valladares, and Mrs. Verma in what he described as an effort to resolve the personnel problems he was experiencing. He also asked if the President and Mr. Smock could be present. Mrs. Perez told him she would contact the President and Mr. Smock and would call him back with a date and time when they could all meet. 

The following day, Mrs. Perez called Mr. Centeno and advised him that the meeting he requested would take place at the main branch in South Pasadena on June 18, 2007.

On June 18, 2007, Mr. Centeno arrived at the South  Pasadena branch and asked to go to the office of Rodger Smock. When he arrived in Mr. Smock's office, only Sylvia Perez was present. Mr. Centeno was informed that the President, Mrs. Valladares and Mrs. Verma were unable to attend. Mr. Centeno was informed by Mr. Smock that it had been decided by President Wiggington to end his employment immediately. He was handed a Warning Notice containing a list of allegations lodged against him by the credit union. This included an accusation that he failed to issue a performance evaluation in a timely manner for an employee named Lourdes. The notice, written by Mrs. Perez, stated that the evaluation was submitted 4 weeks late. On May 12, 2007, Mr. Perez allegedly ordered Mr. Centeno to produce a performance evaluation. The evaluation was completed on June 5, 2007, which is less than 4 weeks and thus not late. 

What's more, Mr. Centeno had been employed by the credit union for more than 90-days and under the credit union's procedures, he was to have received a performance evaluation no later than the 90th day of his employment. Obviously, Mrs. Perez was late and violated the same policy she was enforcing. What's more, Rodger Smock allowed Mrs. Perez to document allegations that were clearly untrue and failed to address Mrs. Perez's own violation. In a memorandum dated, January 8, 2008, issued by Vice President of Operations, Rodger Smock, and issued to "All Members of management and Staff", he stated: 
All performance reviews must be completed within a reasonable time frame following the end of the review period. Reasonable time frame is defined as 1-2 pay periods following the end of the review date. Completed is defined as performance review has been discussed, signed and original sent to Human Resources (copy should be given to respective employee).
Mr. Centeno did not violate the credit union's policy though Mrs. Perez clearly failed to complete her evaluation of Mr. Centeno in a timely manner. Furthermore, the credit union's own records prove that many managers issue performance evaluations long after the 4-week timeframe has passed.  Records show that often, evaluations are completed six to twelve months after they are due. 

Mrs. Perez's Warning Notice also accused Mr. Centeno of failing to respond in a timely manner to a complaint filed by a member who alleged her $200 deposit had never been credited to her checking account. 

The complaint was filed immediately after Mr. Centeno was hired and while he was in training in South Pasadena. He could not have been aware of the member's complaint. What's more, the complaint should have been responded to by either the Assistant Branch Manager, Neelam Verma, or AVP, Sylvia Perez. 

Mrs. Perez purposely alleged a violation of policy that Mr. Centeno never committed. What's more, Mr. Smock chose not to address the apparent distortions of facts presented by Mrs. Perez and suggesting that he was involved in a plot to terminate Mr. Centeno. 

This is not the first time the President and his cronies have conducted a sham meeting to persecute employees. The plot forged against Mr. Centeno is typical of President Wiggington's mode of administration which resorts to the use of unscrupulous and unethical tactics intended to disparage and wound employee reputations. 

President Wiggington has stripped away the dignity that once characterized the credit union and has transformed its former business environment into a soap opera saturated with intrigue and far flung backstabbing. 


Following Mr. Centeno's departure, an audit of the Van Nuys branch disclosed that Assistant Branch Manager, Neelam Verma approved five loans, all of which became delinquent and were referred to collections and some which were eventually, charged-off. The total amount of losses incurred from the bad loans approved by Mrs. Verma, approximated $45,000. 

Its important to remember that Mrs. Verma had been trained by AVP, Sylvia Perez, in the years while Mrs. Perez served as Branch Manager of the Van Nuys office. 

Mrs. Verma was assigned high loan limits by then Vice President of Operations, Charles R. Wiggington, Sr. It was Mr. Wiggington who never ordered training to Mrs. Verma so that she could understand the principles governing loan processing. Not only was she not trained to process loans, there was nothing in her experience or training that qualified her to serve as a Loan Officer.  The loans she approved were not properly screened to determine risk factors for each loan applicant. Furthermore, Mrs. Verma failed to perform federally-mandated processes as required under the Patriot Act.

When the problems with the loans approved by Mrs. Verma were discovered, President Wiggington and AVP, Aaron Cavazos, drove to the Van Nuys branch.

Though the mistake was Mrs. Verma's, the President found a scapegoat in a temporary employee named A. Gant. Mrs. Verma reviewed the loan applications and then ordered A. Gant to fund the loans. Because he was a temporary employee, his experience in loan funding was extremely limited. 

Nonetheless, President Wiggington informed A. Gant that he was being terminated for funding "bad loans." Mrs. Verma was stripped of her title but retained her employment without a reduction in pay. What is also peculiar is that A. Gant was not an employee of the credit union. He was employed by Stivers Staffing whose offices are located in Pasadena, California and temporarily assigned to Priority One Credit Union. Subsequently, he was not employed by Priority One, yet President Wiggington informed him that he was being terminated when the correct procedure would have been to inform Mr. Gant's actual employers- Stivers Staffing, that his assignment was being ended immediately.


Not surprisingly, Mrs. Verma wasn't the only officer of the credit union who despite little or no training in loan processing, was assigned exorbitant approval rights by Charles R. Wiggington, Sr. Like the incident involving Mrs. Verma, the following incident involves a series of approved loans which quickly became delinquent and were all eventually,charged-off.

In 2009, then Burbank Branch Manager, Linda Nisely, approved 4 automobile loans. Within a few months, the loans were deferred to Credit Resolutions. The department failed to procure the delinquent payments, forcing the credit union to charge-off the unpaid loans. 

The loans were issued to a man who visited the the Burbank branch and informed Mrs. Nisely that he was the owner of a San Fernando Valley dealership and wanted to obtain loan funding for some automobiles. Mrs. Nisely may have seen a wonderful opportunity to clinch a fast sale that would probably impress President Wiggington and so, she approved the loans. 

In the weeks that passed, neither Mrs. Nisely, the Loan Department and eventually, Credit Resolutions, experienced any success in reaching the member at the telephone numbers he provided when he funded the loans. 

Exasperated, Mrs. Nisely drove to the dealership but to her shock and dismay, discovered that the business address the member provided was to a business renting postal mail boxes. 

As in the case of Mrs. Verma, it was President Wiggington who authorized Mrs. Nisely loan limits. He never verified if she was qualified to make loan decisions but nonetheless, provided her with limits that should never have been given to her. His failure to train her, to test her abilities and knowledge and any other measures needed to ensure she was fully qualified to review and approve loan applications contributed to the incidence to even more losses to a credit union that since 2007, has lost millions of dollars in Net Income and lost more than 50% of its branches. 

On a side note, Mrs. Nisely was terminated in 2010, allegedly because the credit union was being forced to reduce spending. 

In October 2010, Mrs. Nisely filed a lawsuit against the credit union in which she alleged she had been subjected to age and race discrimination. She was one of the few White employees at Priority One. At the time, the credit union's attorneys of Richardson, Harman and Ober, informed their client that Mrs. Nisely's case had no merit. The attorneys and credit union began amassing a list of employees who would testify in court that Mrs. Nisely was a racist who hated Latins and who had been insubordinate and refused to participate in business development efforts. 

The case which allegedly had no merit was settled soon after Mrs. Nisely provided a copy of a letter written to Priority One's Human Resources Department by the former Valencia Branch Manager and described in detail that she had been victimized by then COO, Beatrice Walker, who created a hostile work environment, harassed and sexually harassed the Branch Manager and had even stalked her. 

What the letter proved is that the entire Board of Directors, President Wiggington, and AVP, Rodger Smock, and Human Resources "clerk", Esmeralda Sandoval, not only failed to investigate the Branch Manager's allegations but allowed a scathing campaign to ensue which eventually forced the Branch Manager's resignation. As a result of the letter, Mrs. Nisely's case was settled and a monetary settlement paid. Mrs. Nisely never called and thanked the Branch Manager for the letter which enabled her victory. 

To be continued........

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