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Thousands, Maybe Millions of Dollars Disappeared from Expats in San Miguel

By Jesús Aguado

Many of the expat community here, know Marcela Zavala Taylor well. Most of them wish they didn’t.

As their personal banking representative with Grupo Financiero Monex (Monex Financial Group), Zavala Taylor’s San Miguel de Allende customers trusted her with large amounts of money in accounts they had opened with Monex with the promise of high interest rates.

After the Monex San Miguel branch closed in 2015, Zavala Taylor told her customers their money was being transferred to accounts in the bank’s Querétaro branch, and that nothing, really, would change for them. Despite some occasional quirks in the delivery of their statements and minor anomalies, everything seemed fine. Customers’ money was being transferred into their local accounts when they requested it. Nothing seemed amiss.

Then, in January, bank users were told by friends that their accounts had been emptied. While the bank is still investigating, it appears that millions of US dollars may have been stolen and that account statements and other documents customers received were likely faked.

For this article, Atención San Miguel spoke with some of the customers who say they lost money and requested an interview with Monex representatives. According to the alleged victims, if their claims are not resolved soon, the situation may turn into a legal battle between the clients and Monex.

Accounts emptied

Those who know Zavala Taylor described her as a hermetic person, but always empathic with her clients. However in December, she vanished, and with her, allegedly, money from dozens, maybe hundreds of accounts. Her former clients do not know where she is, nor where their money went. Her clients believe she diverted their money to the accounts of third-party accomplices.

One client, who requested his name be withheld, told Atención he has filed a criminal complaint, not just against Monex but also against Zavala Taylor personally and against whoever ends up culpable for the alleged embezzlement.

His account and the others that follow are real, but the names have been changed at their request.

Atención met with “Emily Winterle” at an old house in Centro. She told us she first came to San Miguel in early 1970. Later that same decade, she moved to the city and eventually designed and built several houses.

“I opened my account at Monex because I thought it was convenient for my location,” she explained. Winterle claims she invested more than US$400,000 at Monex accounts, she said, explaining that she had two other accounts at different banks where she received transfers from Monex performed by Zavala Taylor.

“My money [at Monex] was an investment, and Marcela always told me, ‘Don’t worry, Emily. You are making money — do not worry.’ I thought I was making money. She said [the money] was invested in Walmart and Volaris.

Whenver Winterle requested statements from Zavala Taylor, she always received them, and when the bank moved to Querétaro, Zavala Taylor would even send cash to Winterle’s home by courier or by electronic transfer. However, last December, when Emily needed money to make several payments, Zavala didn’t return her calls. Later, she discovered US$10,000 was missing from her account. She is now working with the company to get her money back. “People tell me now, ‘She must had liked you,’ because they know people from whom she [allegedly] took over a million dollars,” Winterle said.

A separate case involves a couple who, in 2012, invested their life savings with Monex. They were promised a 10 percent interest rate, they said.

“For the first 18 months, we received rather sketchy monthly statements, and since then, the only details of our investment came via email, only when we requested, from our promoter. Transfers were made to our local bank account by emailing our promoter with the requested amounts.

“When we were informed of the problem last December, my wife consistently phoned the Queretaro office to see what Monex was going to do to compensate us,” said the husband, Christopher Robinson (not his real name).

Note: Nearly every customer quoted in this article used the word promoter to describe Zavala Tayor in the context of her role at the bank. This is likely a word translated from the Spanish term promotor/promotora, which in this case is best translated as “representative.”

Several meetings were held (with individuals), but at one of these, a man who claimed to be a Monex lawyer told the Robinsons “the money was being illegally removed from the affected accounts very early after the initial investment,” said Robinson. “This means the figures supplied by the representative could have had no bearing on reality, as they were supplied by her to cover up the fraud and not by the bank.”

A further problem the couple had was no one they initially dealt with at Monex spoke English. After meetings in San Miguel, Querétaro, and finally México City, where employees spoke English, they got their check.

“I signed some papers in the presence of a notary, two Monex legal people, and a female employee with some English skills,” said Robinson. “Unfortunately, I didn’t get copies of the documents, as I was just relieved to have the money.”

However, a couple of weeks ago, Robinson said he received a phone call from a man named “Alfredo,” a lawyer claiming to be from Monex, saying they had found new evidence regarding Zavala Taylor, “and they now claim I owe them more than a million pesos,” said Robinson. “I have been told it’s very unusual to make a claim of this sort by telephone,” he added.

Compensation at the 2012 exchange rate

A different couple (who we are calling “Anna” and “Matthew”) decided to invest US$40,000 with Monex in 2012 after receiving a family inheritance.

At the time of their investment, the exchange rate was 12 pesos to the dollar.

Anna and Matthew were getting their statements, and everything seemed fine until they talked to a friend who told them about people with emptied Monex accounts.

“In January this year, we heard from a friend that the San Miguel representative had taken money out of Monex accounts,” the couple told Atención in an email. “We called immediately, and, sure enough, there was only 1,000 pesos in our account. We went to Querétaro and filed a reclamation form. We were told to ask our friends if they have accounts, because Marcela had taken the records.

“We waited. We then met with three representatives in San Miguel. They suggested an amount [for compensation], and we said we would think about it.”

The couple says the problem is, that Monex officials only wanted to give them back the amount they were missing at the 2012 currency exchange rate, representing a significant loss.

“They had us go to the Querétaro office and told us the amount was all that they could give us,” the couple said in the email. “This amount was at the original dollar/peso exchange of 12 [pesos to the dollar] instead of the current rate of 19.5.”

Monex’s Response

Atención contacted Grupo Financiero Monex for comment on this story. Public Relations Director Fernando García said he could not provide more information to us than a press release. Here is the translation of that document:

Grupo Financiero Monex Informs:

After the accusations against promoter Marcela Zavala Taylor, on the allegedly irregular movements in accounts from clients of San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, the Comptroller of this Financial Institution is conducting an investigation to determine where the responsibilities lie.

Several legal actions on this case are in progress. For that reason, we cannot reveal details in order to not interfere with the investigation. We have made very important progress with the clients that have submitted letters asking for details on their specific cases, and we are working one-on-one with every client, providing all the guarantees of security.

Grupo Financiero Monex reiterates that all its enterprises and operations fulfill the law and are under supervision of the competent authorities, not just nationally but internationally.

Who protects investors?

Representatives from Banregio Bank told us when a person opens an account and puts money in a registered bank, the client is protected by Mexico’s financial laws, known as The Law for Credit Institutions.

They also said when clients put their money in a bank, by law it is protected by the Instituto para la Protección al Ahorro Bancario (Institution for the Protection of the Clients Savings), known as IPAB. From the first moment a person opens an account, it is automatically insured by the bank.

On its electronic page, the IPAB states that the savings accounts, deposits, checking accounts, payroll accounts, and investments, among others, are protected for up to 400,000 UDIS.

UDIS, or Unidades de Inversión (Investment Units), is a Mexican unit of currency specially created by the Mexican government to account for inflation. It equals an amount of pesos with inflation taken into account. An amount of 400,000 UDIS is currently worth 2,508,467.20 pesos.

As we went to press, Anna and Matthew are in the process of getting a compensation check from Monex. However, they said they still hold the financial group to blame for what happened to them.

“We blame not just the SMA representative, but the whole company,” they said by email. “There is no way that all the departments could not know what is going on and not have records. Also, they would be much more amicable about paying correct amounts and keeping a good reputation if they were not committing fraud.”

 

BOX

The Group

Monex Grupo Financiero’s webpage states that the company is 100 percent Mexican and that it offers high-quality and trustworthy financial products to clients in México and out of the country. “With more than 32 years of presence in the country, Monex is an innovative institution made up of three financial entities: Monex Bank, Monex Brokerage House, and Monex.”

The company offers products for private companies and private banking. Their offices in San Miguel were once situated at the building adjacent to the Ángela Peralta Theater on calle Mesones.

 

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