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Expats accuse rogue banker of stealing millions in life savings

Fraud cases rise and prosecutors seeking justice have a poor track record

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Monex in San Miguel. Photo: Autumn in San Miguel

Bloomberg Newsweek reports that U.S. retirees living in San Miguel were robbed by their own banker.

In late December, Kathy Machir called Marcela Zavala Taylor, her banker of nine years at Mexico’s Monex Casa de Bolsa, to get cash for contractors building her retirement home in San Miguel de Allende.

Typically, Zavala would wire money or dispatch her assistant, Juan, on his motorcycle with an envelope full of pesos. Monex, with $5.2 billion in assets and operations in the U.S., was woven into the lives of Machir and the 10,000 other Americans who’ve moved to San Miguel de Allende.

The transfer didn’t happen. Juan didn’t show, Zavala didn’t return calls, and Kathy and Jim Machir discovered that their nest egg was gone. When the Machirs and other San Miguel expatriates met with Monex officials in early January, the bankers told some of them that about $40 million was missing from as many as 158 accounts, many belonging to English-speaking Americans.

A dozen people interviewed by Bloomberg News say that bank statements Zavala sent them purporting to show full accounts were apparently falsified. Most say the bank has told them little since they filed complaints, and some say Monex tried to settle for far less than the balances owed. “When they told us we had 6 pesos [32¢] in our accounts, I just felt sick to my stomach,” Kathy Machir says. “Since then, they have not dealt with us in good faith.”

The scandal has upended the expatriate community in San Miguel, a city of 69,000 about 500 miles south of McAllen, Texas. Mostly retirees, they have to navigate a society with fewer legal and financial protections than they’d get in the U.S.

Fraud is becoming more common, says Kevin Carr, founder of financial technology firm Finiden in Washington, D.C., and formerly the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s primary representative in Mexico.

“Mexican authorities try to prosecute these cases but often aren’t successful,” he said.

In 2018 there were 7.3 million complaints of fraud involving 18.9 billion pesos, about $1 billion, according to Condusef, Mexico’s consumer protection agency. That’s more than double the number of claims in 2014.

Monex said in a statement that it’s looking into accusations against Zavala: “Legal action is continuing in the case, and details cannot be disclosed so as not to hinder the investigation.” Alberto Loyola, an attorney representing Monex, declined to be interviewed. Some clients interviewed by Bloomberg News who settled for reimbursement say Monex required them to file charges with the Procuraduria General de Justicia, the equivalent of an Attorney General’s Office, in Mexico City, where the bank is headquartered, and to name Zavala. The agency didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.

Bruce Brown, a retired sound engineer from Australia, says he got his full $250,000 back after filing a complaint against Zavala with the Procuraduria General de Justicia. But after Brown got his check, a Monex representative called and asked for $50,000. The bank, the man said, had overpaid. “I told them to shove it,” Brown says.

Read more at Bloomberg Businessweek

Source: Bloomberg Businessweek

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