Collateral Damage: The Hidden Pain of a Bank Whistleblower

Ever wonder what happens to the friends, fortune and family of a whistleblower?

Taking it all in stride and landing a better-paying job? Vacationing in Hawaii while waiting for some federal agency to shower several million dollars as recompense? Just... hanging out with the kids?

Not even. Most people are unaware of the "collateral damage" and anguish that this form of corporate retribution can take on the whistleblower's family, friends and fortune -- but most powerfully the family.

A young girl of 10 when her mother gathered the family together to announce a decision to stand up to management at work and there might be reprisals, the word "whistleblowing" was not in Alicia Marie Almonte's vocabulary. But then, neither was "stress," "homelessness" and "near-destitution."

Local Firing -- National Attention

By way of background, in November 2009, Linda Almonte was living with her family and working for JPMorgan Chase in San Antonio, Texas, as a mid-level executive sporting Six-Sigma Black Belt (3.4 defects per million) credentials and in charge of a team of employees vetting written-off credit card portfolios for sale to debt buyers.

Simple enough. Comb and analyze accounts to be certain that they are in good order and properly authenticated, sign off on each batch, and see them sold off to the highest bidder. Except, Linda discovered a laundry list of problems: robosigning of affidavits, incomplete or inaccurate records, accounts almost impossible to reconcile due to the mismatched computer systems, and the pressure of meeting the numbers by selling off debt to meet quarterly deadlines.

When Linda brought this to the attention of senior management and refused to sign off on this portfolio as directed, she was summarily fired on Nov. 30 of that year. The portfolio was sold off and Chase pocketed $20,000,000 or so.

This was a poor decision on Chase's part, and one that has received press not only in the local San Antonio Express-News , but in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, American Banker, a searing string of articles by Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi, and elsewhere here on The Huffington Post.

Oh yes, and several visits from 60 Minutes... that report pending.

Up and At 'Em = Almost Down and Out

So, at this point we basically know what happened. Linda was fired, she filed a countersuit for wrongful termination, big legal guns from Houston were brought in to contain the damage for the bank, the press got involved, and then various arms of the federal government decided to look into the matter (SEC, FTC, CFPB). Almost immediately, the OCC (Office of the Comptroller of Currency) was camped out at Chase's San Antonio offices -- galvanized by the press attention.

Three years later, "down, but not out" is the kindest description that can be given her case. The family has bounced from cheap hotel to cramped residences and her finances are in the red.

All this, for being a responsible employee, following Chase's own internal guidelines, and attempting to prevent the firm from getting into regulatory hot water which is now close to boiling over.

The child's reaction to the firing

Alicia's calm recitation ("It was hard" is repeatedly used) of the pain of leaving behind school friends and a school which she attended from the second grade, knowing that there was "never enough" money, and that there was no guarantee that they could keep the roof over their head, is remarkable for its maturity.

A maturity reached in a fashion that I don't believe any of my readers and fellow professionals in the ARM industry would wish on their own child... tossed about like a matchstick in an emotional, physical and economic storm not of her own doing.

"Collateral Damage."

The folk wisdom of "What doesn't kill you only makes you stronger" is vouched for by Alicia as being true of herself, her brother and three sisters. Each endured in their own way and supported their mother in her fight, even though the hours on the phone with attorneys and in their offices took away from time she could be with them.

Alicia's only wish? "That we could go back to the way before, and that Chase didn't do what they did."

Somewhere, somehow, someone very high up in Chase must be making that same wish.

(My "15 Minutes of Fact" interview with Alicia Marie Almonte from which this article is derived is posted here.

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