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'Tone deaf' Wells Fargo beats retreat

Whatever were they thinking of?

Wells Fargo, a recipient of $25 billion of taxpayer bail-out money, has been forced to cancel a lavish all-expenses paid trip to Las Vegas for up to 40 employees after facing a torrent of criticism from the public and politicians.

Wells' rethink followed an Associated Press report that the company had booked 12 nights at the Wynn Las Vegas and its sister hotel, the Encore, beginning Friday.

"I was amazed with just how lavish it was," Debra Rickard, a former Wells Fargo mortgage employee from Colorado who attended the events regularly until she left the company in 2004, told the newswire.

In previous years, top Wells Fargo loan officers were treated to performances by Cher, Jay Leno and Huey Lewis. One year, the company provided fortune tellers and offered camel rides, Rickard said. Every night when employees returned to their rooms, there was a new gift on their pillows, she said.

The bank, which initially attempted to defend the junket as "a four-day business meeting and recognition event for hard-working team members who made homeownership achievable and sustainable for borrowers across the nation", was forced into a hasty retreat as public opposition mounted.

"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."

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