A Hispanic woman who was arrested at the after trying to deposit a check wants the bank to apologize, her attorney said Thursday.
Ferndale resident Erandy Pacheco, 35, claims in a lawsuit filed July 17 in Oakland County Sixth Circuit Court that she was singled out by bank employees because of her race and wrongfully arrested after a transaction at the bank's Berkley branch. The defendants include Fifth Third Bank, the city of Berkley and the .
City Manager Jane Bais-DiSessa said the city has received the lawsuit, but "unfortunately, because we're under litigation, I can't comment."
Fifth Third Bank also declined to comment on the case Thursday; the Berkley Public Safety Department could not be reached for comment.
Pacheco, who is Mexican-American, claims that on June 20 she was falsely accused of passing a bad check, arrested, handcuffed in the bank and taken to the BPS station, where she was detained for 2 hours, according to the complaint.
Pacheco's attorney, Jack Jaffe, said his client's experience has been a "nightmare."
Pacheco is a Spanish language translator who had stopped at the to deposit a U.S. Treasury check for $9,540, payment for work with the U.S. District Court in Detroit, according to the complaint. She was accompanied by her mother, who was visiting the United States for the first time from Mexico, the complaint says.
A bank employee, whose name is not disclosed in the complaint and no longer works at the branch, became suspicious of the check and took it to her manager, Surab M. Deb, the lawsuit says. Deb is also a defendant.
Deb had the Berkley Public Safety Department contacted and engaged Pacheco in conversation until officers arrived, according to the lawsuit.
Upon arrival at the bank, BPS Officer Gregory Betts questioned Pacheco about the check and she informed him that it was for translation work she had done in a court case, the complaint says. But Deb told the officer the check was fraudulent and that the United States Treasury does not issue checks to private individuals as Pacheco asserted, the complaint says.
"The check had some errant typing on it as well as a different style of computer printing," Betts wrote in his report. "I also observed that the routing numbers and bank account numbers on the bottom were blotchy. The check appeared not to be a valid check upon looking at it.
"I asked the manager if (Pacheco) was a customer at the bank, since she had a 5/3 Credit Card in her possession," Betts wrote. "He said that she was a new customer and they didn't recognizer her."
Pacheco had been a Fifth Third Bank customer since 2008, according to the lawsuit.
Betts wrote in his report that he contacted BPS Detective Michael Crum, also a defendant in the case, to find out whether he was familiar with any fraudulent U.S. Treasury checks and Crum said he was.
Crum wrote in his report that while Betts was at the scene, he contacted the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Unit in San Diego, Calif.
"I was advised by agent Garcia that he was not familiar with the U.S. District Courts issuing checks in the manner described," Crum wrote. "Agent Garcia could not confirm the check was valid but advised there has been recent fraudulent activity with U.S. Treasury checks."
The lawsuit alleges that without a proper investigation of the check, Betts and another officer, whose name is not provided in the complaint, placed Pacheco in handcuffs and arrested her in front of the other bank patrons and her mother.
"Nobody knew whether it was or it wasn't (a legitimate check) so they erred on the side of her being a criminal," Pacheco's attorney, Jack Jaffe, said.
Pacheco was taken to the Berkley Public Safety Department, where she was held for 2 hours while Crum worked to determine the check's authenticity, the complaint says. She was released into the custody of her husband, attorney Leonid Garbuzov, according to the complaint. Garbuzov is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit.
Crum wrote that he informed Pacheco he would retain the check until its authenticity could be verified.
The next day, he contacted the East Lansing IRS Criminal Investigation Unit and the Detroit Office of the Secret Service and was informed by both agencies that they had not heard of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, the check's issuer, according to his report.
Crum wrote that he eventually contacted someone in the Accounting Financial Systems Department of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts who verified that the check had been issued by the Treasury Department.
The check was returned to Pacheco on June 21 and her information was deleted from the fingerprint database, according to Betts' report.
"It was most traumatic for her and it continues to be but she wants justice, she wants to be able to put this behind her, she wants the bank to apologize," Jaffe said. "She wants the bank to fine-tune the community relations aspect that they so pride themselves on."
Jaffe said Pacheco wants to ensure the bank's employees are more sensitive and better trained to handle similar situations in the future.
"You don't call the police," he said.
Jaffe said there should be "several aspects of settlement."
"This isn't just about being compensated money damages," he said. "It's about the bank recognizing they made a mistake."
Jaffe said the threshold for Circuit Court cases is $25,000 and above but declined to say how much his client is seeking in damages.
Jaffe said he hasn't received any communication from the city of Berkley but he has heard from the bank.
"We're beginning discussion," Jaffe said. "... The hope is that my client and her family can overcome this most unpleasant situation and as soon as possible. We are seeking justice as defined by our judicial system. We want the civil justice system to correct perhaps an abuse of power and certainly an abuse of power with discriminatory intent."