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Customer Believes Chittenden Bank Is Playing Big Brother

Local Matters


Published August 15, 2007 at 7:39 p.m.

  • Patrick Ripley
  • Bill Danaher

BURLINGTON — Ever wonder how much your bankers know about you, or what they can do with the information they do have? If so, a situation that occurred earlier this month at the Burlington Square Chittenden Bank may raise your eyebrows.

Bill Danaher, a 15-month Burlington resident who describes himself as a “law-abiding citizen with a record,” told Seven Days he was cuffed by local police and taken from the bank while trying to make a withdrawal from his checking account on the morning of Thursday, August 2. Police say they learned of Danaher’s location via a 911 call that came from the bank, and that the caller informed the dispatcher Danaher was a wanted man.

What was he wanted for? According to Danaher, $64 worth of civil penalties stemming from previous drunk-driving charges. He says he was unaware of the warrants and believed he had paid all fees associated with the charges. Furthermore, Danaher, 53, says he is under the supervision of the state Department of Corrections as part of his DUI punishment and has been meeting monthly with a probation officer for about a year. During that time, there has been no mention of pending arrest warrants, Danaher reports.

“It’s just bizarre,” he says, describing the bank’s knowledge of his outstanding warrants as “Orwellian crap.”

The Burlington police — whom Danaher describes as “good eggs” — assisted him in withdrawing funds from an ATM to pay the $64 fine. He was released, and returned to the bank to finish his withdrawal less than an hour after being taken into police custody. Embarrassed and upset, Danaher says he questioned the head teller about the situation.

“When I made an inquiry as to what the hell was going on . . . I was simply told that ‘A lot has happened since 9/11,’” he recalls. Danaher contends the bank was somehow able to obtain a detailed history of his life.

But bank officials dispute this claim. “I can’t find anybody who will admit to calling the cops,” says Clyde Yarnell, security manager at the bank. He insists further that bank employees have no way of checking people’s backgrounds. “We definitely don’t have any crystal ball to tell if somebody has an arrest warrant or not,” Yarnell says. “There’s just no way of knowing, unless somebody knows [Danaher] personally, but I can’t find anyone who knows him or made the call.”

Yet someone did. “I have a 911 tape recording from the bank saying this person’s wanted,” says Deputy Chief Mike Schirling, spokesman for the Burlington Police Department. “[The caller] knew his name,” he says. “There is no way for us to know [Danaher] is there unless they called.”

Yarnell says Chittenden employees will typically communicate with police when they fall victim to fraud, when a customer is caught cashing bad checks, or when they notice other illegal account-related activity, but says there is no such activity on file for Danaher’s account. He adds that the Chittenden would not provide police with personal information unless the bank was subject to subpoena.

Schirling also says there is and has been no partnership or system of information sharing between local authorities and banks — before or after 9/11. “Of all the Patriot Act provisions, there were none that related to local law enforcement,” he says. “We don’t have any connection to banks.” Schirling speculates that somebody at the bank “had to know [Danaher] was wanted.”

According to Danaher, that’s impossible. He claims he knows very few people in Burlington and is not familiar with anyone at the bank. Banks are required to report transactions of $10,000 or more to federal officials, but his withdrawal request was well below that threshold, he says.

While the mysterious caller may not be found out, Schirling concludes that whoever called 911 did the right thing. The whereabouts of all wanted persons should be reported to police, he says, regardless of the caliber of their offense. “If somebody’s wanted for $5 or $5 million — don’t worry about it, just call,” Schirling advises.

Still, Danaher feels the bank’s response was over the top, and he plans to end his relationship with Chittenden. He asks rhetorically: “Who’s serving who here?”