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Littleton family claims bank closed accounts after husband reveals he works in the pot industry

Posted at 7:07 AM, Aug 03, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-03 09:07:18-04

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LITTLETON, Colo. — A Littleton woman found out her bank accounts are closed, her credit lines canceled, and she fears her home is in jeopardy, and she said it's simply because of what her husband does for a living.

Ben and Lacey Herrera needed a little extra cash to update their Littleton home, so they applied for a Line of Credit at her bank of nearly 20 years, Wells Fargo.

At first, Lacey Herrera said, their bank gave conditional approval, but then did an abrupt about-face.

"Once they found out the company he worked for, they decided they couldn't count his income," she said. 

Ben Herrera works at a North Denver marijuana grow house, and he said the bank told him his income couldn't count for the requested Line of Credit, but it didn't stop there. More letters came.

"And that's when everything went bad," he said.

He had a credit card. So did his wife. And it was all canceled, Lacey Herrera said. 

Not only did Wells Fargo cancel the cards, but the bank sent notice that their cash accounts (checking and savings) would also be closed, as part of a risk management process. And while the bank wouldn't tell them why, the Herreras feel certain they know the reason.

"Because my money comes from a federally-illegal industry," said Ben Harper. "And it's ridiculous."

Kristi Kelly with the Marijuana Industry Group said that initially, there were concerns about cannabis business owners facing banking issues, but employees are now also increasingly under the microscope.

Kelly said account closures are not the norm, but they are hearing stories like the Herrara's, especially after Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded Obama-era guidance for federal marijuana enforcement.

"Access to banking has been an ongoing concern for the industry for a long time," Kelly said. "To a certain degree, we did see a little bit of a cooling effect on the financial sector in the sense that certain financial institutions did opt to take a more conservative approach as a result of that." 

More than 40,000 workers employed in the marijuana industry in Colorado, which is pushing for change, saying several federal bills in the pipeline would help ease restrictions on banking, she said. 

"We have to resolve this at the federal level in order to easy what's happening on a very micro level at the local level," Kelly said.

But that doesn't help the Herreras, who are now worried their Wells Fargo mortgage could mean their home is also at risk.

A Wells Fargo spokesman sent the following statement: "We are aware of Ms. Herrera's concerns regarding her accounts and will work with her to review her circumstances."

Lacey Herrera said that has not happened yet. 

"I've contacted them a couple of times, and they only say there is nothing they can do," she said. "I've been with them since I was 16 years old, and they said, 'Yeah, we reviewed it and sorry to see you go, but bye.'"

For now, they're looking at the few cannabis-industry-friendly banks in Colorado and trying to warn others about what happened to them.

"Nobody tells you that your bank accounts can be canceled," said Ben Herrera.