Vegas junket not a good idea for Wells Fargo

Giant US financial company Wells Fargo has backed away from a highly controversial proposed corporate junket to Las Vegas following a public outcry that a company in receipt of $25 billion in taxpayer bailout funds should be more sensitive to public perceptions.

Associated Press reports said the company initially defended the trip after it had booked 12 nights beginning Friday at the Wynn Las Vegas and the Encore Las Vegas for company employees. But within hours, investigators and lawmakers on Capitol Hill had scorned the bank, and the company canceled its arrangements.

The conference is apparently a Wells Fargo tradition. Previous all-expense-paid trips have included helicopter rides, wine tasting, horseback riding in Puerto Rico and a private Jimmy Buffett concert in the Bahamas for more than 1 000 of the company's top employees and guests.

"In light of the current environment, we have now decided to cancel this event as well," a company spokesman said Tuesday night in a news release that also said that it had never planned to use taxpayer bailout money for the trip.

Associated Press comments that corporate retreats have attracted criticism since the bank bailout last fall. Congress scolded insurance giant American International Group Inc. for spending $440 000 on spa treatments for executives just days after the company took $85 billion from taxpayers. AIG has since canceled all such outings.

Because of the bailout and the recession, other banks have canceled employee outings, including Morgan Stanley, which informed employees Monday that an appreciation trip to Monte Carlo was off.

Politicians expressed outrage on hearing about the proposed Wells Fargo trip to Vegas: "Let's get this straight: These guys are going to Vegas to roll the dice on the taxpayer dime?" said Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, a West Virginia Republican who sits on the House Financial Services Committee. "They're tone deaf. It's outrageous."

Exacerbating the situation, the cancelled trip would have followed an announcement that Wells Fargo lost more than $2.3 billion in the last three months of 2008.

"Now, they're sending employees on junkets to Las Vegas. You do the math," said New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who recently sought information about Wells Fargo's bonuses as part of his investigation into the banking industry.

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