Occupy Philly Protesters Found Not Guilty

12 Occupy Philadelphia protesters who staged a sit in at a Wells Fargo bank in Center City Philadelphia were acquitted of charges of conspiracy and defiant trespass for a 2011 protest during the Occupy Wall Street movement.

The 12 – one woman and 11 men – were arrested Nov. 18, 2011 when they staged a sit-in inside the Wells Fargo branch at 17th and Market Streets. The protesters said they wanted to call attention to what they called Wells Fargo’s “racist predatory lending” policies that caused a disproportionately large number of home foreclosures in African American neighborhoods.

“If this jury has found us innocent then it must mean that Wells Fargo is guilty,” said an elated 71-year-old Willard R. Johnson, one of the 12 on trial.

Occupy Philly had accused Wells Fargo of redlining and targeting African American communities for predatory loans. Protesters seemed to have grounds as a series of lawsuits have been initiated by governments and interest groups against the Too Big To Fail banks over discriminatory lending policy. Such as the ACLU’s lawsuit against Morgan Stanley and of course Wells Fargo’s own $175 million settlement with the Justice Department over racial discrimination in housing.

An investigation by the department’s civil rights division found that mortgage brokers working with Wells Fargo had charged higher fees and rates to more than 30,000 minority borrowers across the country than they had to white borrowers who posed the same credit risk, according to a complaint filed on Thursday along with the proposed settlement.

Wells Fargo brokers also steered more than 4,000 minority borrowers into costlier subprime mortgages when white borrowers with similar credit risk profiles had received regular loans, a Justice Department complaint found. The deal covers the subprime bubble years of 2004 to 2009.

Thomas Perez, the assistant attorney general for the civil rights division, said the practices amounted to a “racial surtax,” adding: “All too frequently, Wells Fargo’s African-American and Latino borrowers had no idea they could have gotten a better deal — no idea that white borrowers with similar credit would pay less.”

As for the protesters even the judge had some nice things to say about them when the trial was completed.

Judge Nina N. Wright Padilla asked all 12 to approach so she could shake their hands.

“I hope you continue your work in a law-abiding way,” said Padilla. “I must say you are the most affable group of defendants I’ve ever come across.”