Klantown: First National Bank

fnb

PULASKI, TENNESSEE – Building front of First National Bank near the square of town.

One of the first encounters I had in the city of Pulaski that indicated there was something amiss with the town was my experience with local fixture First National Bank.  Located across from city hall, the bank has had a longstanding history with the town and is the main economic powerhouse for a city in chronic recession.  Both the city of Pulaski and the local college, Martin Methodist, utilize the bank for their financial services, and as a result, have become a consolidated monopoly that runs the town.

First National Bank has had its fair share of bad press.  Between former president R. Mike Curry being sent to prison for embezzlement, or even being robbed while positioned across the street from the police station, the bank exists today only to serve the well-to-do in the community.  Given how few choices there are in the area for decent banking, FNB does have a strong hold on the wallets of the local citizens.

Long before I ever knew her, my wife had accounts with First National Bank.  Somewhere along the way, a not-so-negligible amount of money, perhaps around $500, completely disappeared from her savings account.  At the time, she couldn’t make heads or tails of what happened.  She’s not a rich person who wouldn’t miss $500 no longer there.  But shortly after this experience, R. Mike Curry came clean regarding an ongoing embezzlement scheme he had created to keep his family’s finances afloat.  She eventually concluded that the money she was missing had to have been pilfered by the man in charge of the bank.

But that didn’t stop her from keeping her checking account with the bank.  Fast forward about ten years, and I step into the picture.  Upon moving in together, we decided it would be a good idea to have my name put on her bank account to make it easier for me to cash payroll checks in the future.  We went into the branch and talked with a woman who, at first, seemed nice.  She gathered my information and then performed a check on me.  Being eighteen at the time, I didn’t realize that she was performing a credit check on me.  To this day, other than a ChekSystems report (which is not a credit report), this was the only time a bank ever checked my credit for a checking account.

The woman concluded that I could not be added to her bank account, as my credit was not sufficient for an account.  Granted, I was eighteen years old and had no credit, but that didn’t matter.  At the time, though, we were both perplexed and aggravated but decided to let it go.  I later opened an account with SunTrust with no issues.

My wife continued doing business with First National Bank and, strangely, started receiving overdraft notices every month.  At first, we figured that our finances were not in the best of shape and perhaps overlooked something.  However, over the next several months, I began keeping a sharp eye on bank statements to see where money was going.  Even after keeping a perfect ledger of transactions, we still seemed to be way off.  But one day I figured it out.

For those who have ever used PayPal, you probably have had to link a bank account.  In order to do this, you must have two small deposits (usually under twenty-five cents each) made into your account, to which the owner would identify the amounts with PayPal and confirm the account.  I had began using eBay quite a bit during this time and linked both my and Carol’s account to PayPal to streamline the monies flowing in and out.  It was during this time that I received a statement reflecting the deposits made during that time.  However, directly underneath each of the two deposits made was a line for a three dollar fee described as an “ACH Deposit Fee”.

This began my investigation into the shady ongoings of the bank.  I found out that many other people in the community were wronged by the bank in some capacity, even being sued by the bank and having no recourse but to pay whatever the bank wanted because they couldn’t afford an attorney.  Within a few days of receiving the statement, my wife and I felt we had enough evidence to show First National Bank we had caught them red handed.

We sat down with, coincidentally, the same woman who denied me a bank account in the first place.  I began by explaining the rampant fees we were being charged, therefore causing my wife’s bank account to be overdrawn, thereby being subjected to even more fees.  When asked for further explanation, I showed her the statement that clearly stated the fees being charged for the ACH Deposit was larger than the actual deposit.  The woman, in turn, took the Mike Pence approach and denied, denied, denied.  She even said that the bank didn’t charge such a fee at all, to which I thrust the statement in her face and suggested she read the official document I had from the bank saying that she was lying.  This, of course, did not end well, and we later decided to close the account.

But I wasn’t finished.  The bank had lied and stolen from us, and I wanted everyone in town to know.  Being a political activist, the first idea that came to mind was a protest.

I visited the local Walmart, gathered some supplies for a sign, and drove to the bank.  On the city sidewalk, and not on private property, I held a sign saying “FNB = Ripoff”.  Within ten minutes, I was surrounded by five or six police officers and two managers from the branch.  The bank seemed confused as to why I was protesting, and the cops seemed pissed that someone was protesting in their town at all.  After explaining that the bank was a corrupt entity that stole from the common man, the cops gathered with the two bank managers to discuss the situation.

The cops turned their attention back to me and began telling me they were going to arrest me if I didn’t stop.  I asked what I had done wrong; after all, I was not disturbing the peace, it was not an unauthorized protest (has to be more than two people), and I had a constitutional right to freedom of speech.  At that point, one of the officers began chest bumping me, causing me to slip off the sidewalk and into the road, nearly breaking my ankle in the process.  I was given the strong impression that this bank was not to be messed with, and I would be messed with if I continued.  Of course, complaining to the supervising officer on duty did no good, and was even told that the officer that had assaulted me was “dead” when I pointed to a picture of him on the wall.

There are many other horror stories that I can share related to this bank.  But one that will always stick in my mind is the one told by my friend, Holden.

Roughly about the same time as the embezzlement issue, Holden found himself needing some essentials from a few stores.  Since his bank account only had $19, and the bank was closed, he had to write checks to cover three purchases he made.  Somewhere along the way, the bank made an error to his account, and all three checks were refused.

There were many things he had to deal with as a result.  Writing a bad check is a crime.  And when the merchants he did business with were denied payment, he had to act fast in order to prevent charges being pressed against him for a crime he didn’t commit.  It didn’t matter that the bank admitted wrongdoing and claimed to honor the checks after they’d been refused: the bank still refused them after this.  Needless to say, he closed his account with the bank shorty thereafter and switched to SunTrust.

Somewhere along the way, one of the refused checks did indeed make it to criminal charges.  When this happens, and especially if you’re not aware of the charges like Holden was, you can  lose your driver license.  So when about a year later he was pulled over, it was discovered that his license had been suspended due to the problems with the bank.  He was arrested, and to this day still has a mug shot on the Giles County Sheriff’s website.

Fast forward roughly fifteen years.  Holden and his new wife and kid are driving at night through north Tennessee to meet his new relatives for the first time and are pulled over due to a headlight issue (there was no issue, but it’s an old car and apparently the headlights were not as bright as a new car).  After running his license, Holden was arrested on the side of the road.  It turns out that there was still a warrant for his arrest related to the refused checks from First National Bank.  There was a fourth check that had not been refused at the time of the account issue, but somehow the bank managed to screw that up, too.

Long story short, he was released because they could not find any of the information pertaining to the warrant.  But because of this, Holden was forced to fork out more money on legal fees to resolve the issue.  This is all over an account with $19 from the 90s.

The bank has become an institution for the local governing entities in the town, and as a result, they are given carte blanche to do as they please.  As long as the elected officials, well-to-do, and local college admin are happy, then they can do whatever illegal things they want.  How?  Because the morons of Pulaski are too dumb to understand their legal rights and will refuse to take on such a well established business with deep ties into the community.  Those people would be ostracized and even outcast from the town because they rocked the boat.

It’s terrible that a financial entity that is entrusted with people’s livelihoods can be so uncaring that their illegal business practices ruin lives.  It nearly ruined Holden’s, and had the same story been applied to the average Pulaskian, it most certainly would have.  Carol, Holden, and I are very lucky that we didn’t allow the bank to fuck us over any more than they already did.  We all find it disturbing that the local government would continue to be in the pocket of such a corrupt entity.  But people in Pulaski are too stupid to make well informed decisions.

Next time on Klantown: Mark Bruna

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