melchert-dinkel: Would die today if we could, but I will wait and see how it goes for you. kajouji: That is very kind of you. Thank you. melchert-dinkel: You’re welcome. Do you have something to use for hanging if you choose to do that with me? kajouji: No, I would have to go buy it. melchert-dinkel: Okay, that isn’t hard to get. Just getting the knot/noose position needs a little help. Which I can do if we get there. You okay? This is a lot to think about. kajouji: Yeah, it feels good to be honest with someone instead of having to pretend I’m okay and make excuses. Are you going to write a note? melchert-dinkel: No, my family knows why. It won’t make things any better if I write notes. I want to be found in decent shape, so I can be viewed by my coworkers and friends. That is fair to them. kajouji: That’s true. Drowned bodies are pretty gruesome-looking, aren’t they? They get all bloated and discolored? melchert-dinkel: Yes, terrible, to be honest. kajouji: My parents don’t live in this city, so how will that work? My family lives about a sixhour drive away. melchert-dinkel: If they find you in the river, they will have to identify you somehow. That can take time for sure. Then they have to find your parents, who have to come identify you—more time. So most likely no viewing due to time and trauma. If you are carried away in the river current, they may never find you. You would be a missing person. That’s why I’m keeping everything here at home. Easy for my mom. kajouji: I’m sure they’ll find me because I’m not jumping in the actual river. I’m jumping in the canal. It won’t take me too far. I guess I should have my wallet in a zippered pocket so I have some I.D. on me. melchert-dinkel: Um, yeah. I will be here starting about 8:00 a.m. on Monday, if you need me. If you are still here (I hope not, for your sake), then try to come on early so we can do it if you want to. kajouji: Okay, what sort of rope will I need? melchert-dinkel: Get a yellow nylon rope, about eight feet. That is all you need. And look around your apartment for somewhere to hang from. I can help you with the cam when you need to. march 9, 6:56 p.m. melchert-dinkel: How are you doing? kajouji: I’m good. I’m glad things are going to end tonight. melchert-dinkel: So you think you’ll be all done tonight?
kajouji: Yup, for sure. I’ve got all my affairs in order. I’m feeling confident. melchert-dinkel: I think tomorrow will be it. kajouji: Well, you will not be alone. melchert-dinkel: I know. kajouji: I want to go now, but there are too many people up and about. I’m going to have to wait a couple of hours. melchert-dinkel: I wish we could have done it together, but I understand why. Did you get rope in case you need a backup plan? kajouji: No. There is a store close by if I need to.
I HAVE A DREAM HOUSE From an affidavit by Elizabeth Jacobson, a former loan officer at a Maryland branch of Wells Fargo, submitted in support of a federal lawsuit brought by the city of Baltimore against the bank. The city filed the lawsuit in January 2008, claiming that Wells Fargo targeted African Americans in Maryland for high-interest subprime mortgages, which have since forced many homeowners into foreclosure. The affidavit was submitted in June. Asked for comment, Wells Fargo said that it believes the “lawsuit lacks merit” and stated that “race is not a factor in the pricing and products we offer.”
worked directly with loan applicants to make subprime loans. Much of my business came from referrals from Wells Fargo loan officers who were on the prime-loan side of the business. These loan officers were known as “A reps.” For several years I was the top subprime-loan officer at the company. My pay was based on commissions and fees from making these loans. In 2004, I grossed more than $700,000 in sales commissions. The commission and referral system at Wells Fargo was set up in a way that made it more profitable for a loan officer to refer a prime customer for a subprime loan than make the prime loan directly to the customer. I knew that many of the referrals I received could qualify for a prime loan. It was in my financial interest to figure out how to qualify referrals for subprime loans. Moreover, in order to keep my job, I had to make a set number of subprime loans per month. There were various techniques that were used to qualify the A-rep referrals for subprime loans. One way was to tell customers not to put any money
HARPER’S MAGAZINE / SEPTEMBER 2009
September Readings Final2.indd 22
7/22/09 9:52:32 AM
COURTESY THE ARTIST, ROSEGALLERY, LOS ANGELES, AND THE LAPIS PRESS, LOS ANGELES
“Port Angeles,” by Elger Esser, was on exhibit last winter at ROSEGALLERY, in Los Angeles.
down on the loan and borrow the entire amount, even if they could afford a big enough down payment to qualify for a prime loan. Another technique would be to tell the customer that the only way to get the loan closed quickly would be to submit it as a subprime loan. Some A reps actually falsified loan applications in order to steer prime borrowers to subprime-loan officers. One means of falsifying loan applications that I learned of involved cutting and pasting credit reports from one applicant to another. I was also aware of subprime-loan officers who would cut and paste W-2 forms. I reported this conduct to management and was not aware of any action taken to correct the problem. Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loans, like other government-insured loans, offered lower interest rates that are closer to prime rates. Subprimeloan officers were required to have a subprime borrower sign a “Benefit to Borrower” statement that stated that the borrower may qualify for a government-insured loan but did not want it because it was too much paperwork. In fact, subprime-loan officers were never trained in how to make FHA or government-insured loans. We asked for this training, but Wells Fargo refused to provide it. I know that Wells Fargo Home Mortgage tried to market subprime loans to African Americans in Baltimore. I am aware from my own personal experience that one strategy used to target African-
American customers was to focus on AfricanAmerican churches. Wells Fargo had a program that provided a donation of $350 to the nonprofit of the borrower’s choice for every loan the borrower took out with Wells Fargo. Wells Fargo hoped to sell the African-American pastor or church leader on the program because Wells Fargo believed that church leaders had a lot of influence over their ministry and in this way would convince the congregation to take out subprime loans with Wells Fargo. I remember being part of a conference call that took place in 2005 where Wells Fargo sales managers discussed the idea of going into black churches in Baltimore to do presentations about our subprime products. On that call we were told that we “have to be of color” to come to the presentation. The idea was that since the churchgoers were black Wells Fargo wanted the loan officers to be black. I was told that I could attend only if I “carried someone’s bag.” Subprime-loan officers did not target white churches for subprime loans. When it came to marketing, any reference to “church” or “churches” was understood as code for African-American or black churches. I complained many times about what I thought were unethical or possibly predatory loan practices that Wells Fargo was engaged in. Managers never took any action to respond to my concerns. In my office we morbidly joked that we were “riding the stagecoach to Hell.”
September Readings Final2rev2.indd 23
7/28/09 7:58:02 AM