As a sponsor faces lawsuit over lending practices, Smiley ends relationship

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After being drawn into a scandal over alleged predatory loan practices of Wells Fargo, talk show host Tavis Smiley has cut all ties to the financial company.

Smiley, who hosts shows on both PBS and Public Radio International, began working with Wells Fargo in 2005 as a speaker at wealth-building seminars for African Americans. A lawsuit recently filed by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan charges that these seminars were marketing schemes to peddle subprime mortgages to minorities and “part of the bank’s overall illegal and discriminatory practice of steering black and Hispanic borrowers into riskier and more expensive loans,” according to the Washington Independent.

“Basically we were just speakers for hire,” said Kelvin Boston, host of the American Public Television series Moneywise, who also appeared at the seminars. “We didn’t have any role or any control over what else happened. The main point is that we were not involved in any of their discussions or in anything they sold.”

“I cut everything off with Wells Fargo,” Smiley told journalism blogger Richard Prince [scroll down here], as the Independent’s story began circulating on the blogosphere last week. The move cost “a lot of money,” Smiley added, but he didn’t know how much. Wells Fargo had sponsored Smiley’s weekly PRI series and his annual “State of the Black Union” conferences, televised by C-SPAN.

In a written statement, Smiley said the mission of his media company is “to empower and speak for the underserved” and it “always will support any official and credible investigation of allegations of any company accused of disrespecting communities of color with discriminatory practices.”

The Washington Independent is an online publication of the Center for Independent Media and staffed by a team of blogger/reporters who specialize in politics, policy & business reporting.