Mount Vernon Mayor Accuses Local JP Morgan Chase Bank Of “Banking While Black”Racism Against Him

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Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Thomas
Photo: Facebook Screenshot

Mayor Richard Thomas says he was victim of "Banking While Black," at JP Morgan Chase Bank, in Mount Vernon, NY.

Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Thomas stated he recently became the victim of a “banking while Black” situation when police were called to a local JP Morgan Chase Bank he was visiting.

A bank employee assumed the mayor’s bodyguard—a plainclothes Latino police officer—represented a security threat.

Mayor Thomas has dubbed this bank employee #TattleTeller. He is requesting the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the oversight body for federal banks, investigate why police were called. He also wrote a letter to JP Morgan Chase CEO Jaime Dimon.

On April 24, Mayor Richard Thomas said he decided to visit a local JP Morgan Chase Bank, in White Plains, at 925 Westchester Ave. Here is what he said happened.

“I went to the offices of JP Morgan Chase to inspect the City's electronic banking records and to deposit a six-figure check,” Thomas said. “I wasn't able to do either. Instead, staff at the bank called 911, allegedly because my bodyguard-a Mount Vernon Police detective-was armed. Mind you, the call to police was made about 90 minutes after I introduced the police detective to staff there and after we were allowed into a conference room to wait to see our City's banking representative.”

Mayor Thomas’ attempt to get access to information about his city’s account has been a topic of political contention between him and Mount Vernon City Comptroller Deborah Reynolds. Reportedly, Mayor Thomas and Ms. Reynolds have been battling over the mayor’s request to access this information. The two must co-sign on city checks. Since taking office, Thomas has said he has been repeatedly denied access to the city’s bank records. Another reason for going to the bank was to enforce a court order granting access to the information Thomas said he was being denied.

Mayor Thomas visited the bank with Marilyn Crawford, president of Mount Vernon’s Industrial Development Agency, and Mount Vernon police Detective Jose Centeno—the mayor’s security detail. Like Thomas, Ms. Crawford is Black, and Detective Centeno is Hispanic.

The mayor believes the White Plains Police were called because of racial profiling by the teller. Allegedly, because Detective Centeno, who was wearing a suit, was also seen with his gun, someone decided they saw him “brandishing” it.

In a letter to JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, Mayor Thomas disputed the allegation that Detective Centeno was “brandishing” his weapon.

“At the time your staff called the police, we were in a Chase conference room where we were placed, having already been invited into Chase's offices,” Thomas said. “We were subjected to an extensive waiting time for someone to address us, then a lengthy wait for a call back, then a phone conversation and then more waiting on a call back. After all that, the police were summoned for no reason and no disturbance. As the leader of the City of Mount Vernon, which has substantial accounts with JP Morgan Chase, I expected professional courtesy and cooperation. I was dressed in a suit and tie and accompanied by a staff member and a Mount Vernon Police detective, also dressed in a suit. I introduced both. We were very transparent, polite and kind at all times, asking for simple account information. At no time did my security detail, the detective, brandish a gun or make any threats, as was alleged to my staff member by your Chase employee who relayed that staff was warned of a threat of someone in the building with a gun.”

Mayor Thomas highlighted how dangerous the situation may’ve turned out.

“Thank GOD that one of the many responding officers trained my security detail. Otherwise, this could have escalated to a tragedy,” Thomas said. “I'm not laughing because someone could have been killed because of a miscommunication. As a Mayor and as a young, well-educated black man living during this turbulent time in society where police are being called on Black people for going about everyday life, this is unacceptable. We've seen this happen to two Black men at a Starbucks in Philadelphia. We've also seen this happen to Oregon Rep. Janelle Bynum while she was campaigning. Now it happened to me. I just wanted you, as a respected and admired executive and leader, to know this.”

The Black Star News called Mayor Thomas’ office and spoke to the mayor’s press contact, Lou Migliore, about the situation. We asked Mr. Migliore if he knew why police were called after the mayor had been there for around 90 minutes.

“Well I think that that’s what the mayor and his staff care about as well,” Migliore said. “Because they were there for an hour-and-a-half, two hours, having conversations that were actually going very well. They were talking business. And then all of a sudden the police are called with no warning or explanation as to why.”

The Black Star News also asked Mr. Migliore about the allegation of a “brandishing” weapon.

“Well I think that that’s what the bank had said was why the police were called,” said Migliore. “Because the mayor travels with a security detail who is an on-duty detective and required by law and by administrative rules to carry a weapon while working…Nobody brandished anything.”

According to Mr. Migliore, Mr. Dimon had not responded to Mayor Thomas’ letter.

The Black Star News contacted JP Morgan CEO Jaime Dimon regarding Mayor Thomas’ allegations. We received a response from Managing Director at JP Morgan, Joseph Evangelisti, who claims they did leave messages for Mayor Thomas.

“We called the mayor the same day we received the letter and the mayor’s office said he was not in that afternoon. And that he would call us back,” Evangelisti said. “And then we also did send a follow-up letter to the mayor too. So, we did respond to him.”

The Black Star News also asked if the mayor’s allegations were being investigated internally.

“The allegations are false,” Evangelisti said. “The mayor walked in with somebody with a gun. And the person with a gun did not identify themselves. And, so, one of our people in the front of the building saw the gun but they didn’t know who the person was, so they called the security in the building. The building said if you see a gun in a bank building just call the police.”

Black Star News pointed out to Mr. Evangelisti that the mayor said Detective Centeno had been identified as a detective when they first arrived—nearly two hours prior.

“I see. Our person said that she did not know, and she was frightened,” Evangelisti said. “And so, it wasn’t about the mayor, it was about the other person. It wasn’t like she spotted the mayor.” Mr. Evangelisti characterized Mayor Thomas’ allegations of racism as “highly insulting.”

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