PARSIPPANY — Pastor Jeffrey Edwards, Parsippany United Methodist Church, filed in Morris County Superior Court on Thursday, March 14 a Civil Action Complaint against Wells Fargo & Company, Wells Fargo, N.A. and John Does 1-10 and John Doe Entity 1-10. (Docket No. MRS-L-000568-19).
Edwards has served the community for 29 years and both the Church and Edwards has been a customer of Wells Fargo for more than a decade.
On April 28, 2018, New Jersey State Police and Detective William Condron commenced an investigation concerning fraudulent checks deposited into the Wells Fargo Bank account of a Neptune, woman named Tyler Mathis. There were four checks issued by the New Jersey Turnpike Authority and payable to various state entities and utility companies, including PSE&G, the Treasurer of the State of New Jersey, the South Jersey Energy Company and the Rockland Electric Company.
Sometime after the original checks were issued by New Jersey Turnpike Authority, an individual created four fraudulent checks, using the same check numbers and account numbers. The checks were made payable to Tyler Mathis as follows:
- Check Number 142485, Payable to Tyler Mathis, dated April 15, 2018, in the amount of $1620.11, was originally issued to PSE&G, in the amount of $14,061.66.
- Check Number 142491, Payable to Tyler Mathis, dated April 15, 2018, in the amount of $1550.12, was originally issued to Treasurer State of New Jersey, in the amount of $320.00.
- Check Number 142489, Payable to Tyler Mathis, dated April 15, 2018, in the amount of $1450.13, was originally issued to South Jersey Energy Company in the amount of $216.08.
- Check Number 142487, Payable to Tyler Mathis, dated April 15, 2018, in the amount of $1420.17, was originally issued to Rockland Electric Company, in the amount of $459.80.
Wells Fargo notified the State Police that each of the fraudulent checks were deposited at the Wells Fargo branch located at 1077 Route 46, Parsippany on April 16, 2018.
Shortly after the investigation commenced, the State Police learned that a fifth fraudulent check was deposited at the Wells Fargo branch located in Glen Ridge, in the same Mathis bank account. The fifth fraudulent check was also payable to Mathis. The check was issued from Sun Wellness, LLC., drawn on Chase Bank, dated April 14, 2018 in the amount of $1250.00.
On May 9, 2018, the State Police served Wells Fargo, Parsippany, with a subpoena requesting any and all records of associated account numbers, all account name holders, date of birth, social security numbers, transaction history, phone numbers, driver license numbers, still pictures and/or digital video from Wells Fargo ATM associated with Check #142485, #142487, #142489, #142491.
On June 18, 2018, in response to the subpoena, Wells Fargo, intentionally, recklessly, and erroneously identified Edwards as the person who deposited the fraudulent checks and provided State Police with still photographs of a white-male: Rev. Edwards. Wells Fargo knew or should have known that its response to the subpoena would result in the arrest and prosecution of Rev. Edwards. Rather than correctly identify the individual depositing the fraudulent checks, Wells Fargo identified Rev. Edwards, a customer of the bank, who had made a Legitimate deposit of four legitimate checks on the date in questions.
On July 9, 2018, three months after the investigation commenced, State Police Detectives Condron and Miguel Guarda interview Mathis about the fraudulent checks and Mathis confessed. Mathis identified her co-conspirator as a “dark skinned black male” allegedly known to her only as “Cousin Swing.”
Mathis also admitted that “Cousin Swing” told her, he would deposit the checks into her account and once they clear, they would split the money.
Mathis admitted she gave “Cousin Swing” her bank card to facilitate the deposits.
Rather than charge and prosecute Mathis for her role in the crime, the State Police told Mathis she was a “Victim of a check fraud scam.”
On the same date, July 8, 2018, knowing that Mathis and “Cousin Swing” were the actual perpetrators, the State Police publically, recklessly or intentionally, and with malice, uploaded to Facebook the photos of Rev. Edwards that were provided by Wells Fargo. In the Facebook post on the New Jersey State Police page, the headline read “State Police Seeking Public’s Assistance with Identifying Man Depositing Fraudulent Checks…” The post continued to state “The New Jersey State Police is seeking the public’s assistance with identifying a man suspected of depositing fraudulent checks at an ATM. On Monday, April 16 (2018), the man pictured below attempted to deposit fraudulent checks into an account at Wells Fargo Branch ATM on Route 46, Parsippany, N.J. The account has a mailing address in Neptune Township and has also recently been used in Bergen, Essex and Monmouth Counties. Anyone with information is asked to contact Detective William Condron of the Troop “D” Criminal Investigation Office at 732-441-4500 Ext. 7417 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Anonymous tips are welcome. Please like and share! (Editor’s Note: A bank supplied photograph of Rev. Edwards appeared on the post). In less than 24 hours the post has been shared 466 times.
Two days later, Rev. Edwards contacted Detective Condron via email after one of his parishioners saw the posting. Rev. Edwards indicated there must have been some mistake. Rev. Edwards told Condron how distressed he felt. Rev. Edwards attached to the email his bank records, which showed no fraudulent conduct of any kind. Rather, the records demonstrated that Rev. Edwards made a legitimate deposit of four legitimate checks to his personal account on the date in question. Edwards attached copies of the four legitimate checks that he deposited and a copy of his bank statement.
On July 11, 2018, Det. Condron contacted Wells Fargo Subpoena Compliance Unit and spoke with associate, Rashonda Neeley. Condron “requested the information she provided be checked to assure its accuracy.”
On July 12, 2018, Neeley contacted Det. Condron and advised that Wells Fargo team reviewed the case and the pictures provided of Rev. Edwards were associated with the deposited fraudulent checks. Condron “questioned Neeley about the pictures and asked her if she would be able to provide information on how the photos were associated to the fraudulent checks.” Neely called Condron back to say that Wells Fargo does not release that information typically and he would have to have a meeting about the release of the check numbers.
As it turns out, this particular ATM machine only keeps video and time stamps of deposits for two weeks, so when the State Police re-subpoena Wells Fargo to verify their initial determination that Edwards pictures show the culprit, they no longer have anything to re-evaluate. Nor can they check whether Cousin Swing – who clearly shows up on the video at the April 17 ATM deposit – made an appearance at the Wells Fargo Parsippany ATM.
On or about July 18, 2018, Wells Fargo again provided the State Police with ATM photographs of Rev. Edwards, knowing that the photographs that were provided to law enforcement would result in the arrest and prosecution of the person identified. This time, Wells Fargo, falsely and randomly hand wrote on the ATM photographs of Rev. Edwards the numbers of the fraudulently deposited checks. Wells Fargo admitted that it could not confirm that Rev. Edwards deposited fraudulent check number 142487.
On August 2, 2018, Det. Condron received from Wells Fargo an ATM photograph of the individual who deposited the fifth fraudulent check at the Wells Fargo Glen Ridge branch the day after the fraudulent transaction in Parsippany. The man in that ATM photograph was not Rev. Edwards and appeared to be an African American male. The forged signature on the Glen Ridge check appeared to be the same as the forged signature on the Parsippany branch checks. Once again, Det. Condron served Wells Fargo with a subpoena that was returnable on August 17, 2018 requesting, all retained ATM video surveillance and photograph(s) from the ATM #0460D located at the Wells Fargo Branch on Route 46, Parsippany for the following checks deposited into Jeffrey Edwards, Well Fargo account on April 16, 2018: Check #5331 in the amount of $2716.22, Check #2559382, in the amount of $240.00, Check #5953 in the amount of $200.00 and Check # 210713 in the amount of $23.65.
Upon information and belief, Wells Fargo refused to comply with this subpoena or the State Police refused to turn over this evidence in the criminal prosecution of Rev. Edwards.
On August 23, 2018, Rev. Edwards asked for an apology from Wells Fargo. None was forthcoming. Edwards stated “Finally, on September 4 I get a casual sounding phone call from the State Police asking me to come down to the station so they “can wrap this up.” Irritated, I agree hoping to get some answers to how this all happened. Confident that I has nothing to hide I go to see the State Police. It didn’t occur to me to bring a lawyer. I am taken into an interrogation room, told that Wells Fargo’s pictures of me prove I am guilty and pressure me to confess. I am dumbfounded. I insist that Wells Fargo has made some kind of technology error. The State Police say, “suppose this goes to trial and we get the Wells Fargo technology expert on the stand and he says you did it, who do you think they’ll believe?” I say if that is what is necessary, bring it on; I have nothing to confess. They announce they are arresting me for third degree forgery. I ask them, “How do my legitimate check deposits line up timewise with the fraudulent check deposits?” They answer, “We don’t know.” I ask them again to “do the right thing” and get the posts removed from the three websites and they say, “That’s not our problem.”
State Police recklessly or intentionally, and with malice, arrested Rev. Edwards and charged him with third degree forgery in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:21-1a(2), “by depositing fraudulent checks into a Wells Fargo account while utilizing an ATM located at the Wells Fargo located on Route 46, Parsippany on April 16, 2018. The State Police did so despite the fact that they were in possession of overwhelming evidence of Rev. Edwards’ innocence. They fingerprint Edwards, take his mug shots and gave him a court date. Edwards had to hire a lawyer to go to court. He appeared in court three times because for the first two the State Police failed to provide the information they’ve gathered. Finally on the third trip on January 16, 2019 the judge dismisses the charges.
According to the lawsuit, Edwards is seeking damages from Wells Fargo and the State Police for an inexcusable false arrest, malicious prosecution and humiliation of an innocent man, Rev. Edwards.
“I still have not received apologies from either Wells Fargo or the State Police. The postings with my pictures are still out there online. I am suing both Wells Fargo and the State Police. As a pastor, my work is all based upon my being viewed as trustworthy, and their reckless charges threatened my hard-earned reputation as somebody worthy of peoples’ trust,” continued Edwards.
“The carelessness of both Wells Fargo and the State Police is kind of appalling, and I wonder what happens to somebody who might not have the resources to defend themselves,” the pastor said. “I told them yes that was my picture and yes I was in the bank that day. That’s all they needed to arrest me.”