WASHINGTON — Wells Fargo & Co. on Tuesday abruptly canceled a pricey Las Vegas casino junket for employees after a torrent of criticism that it was misusing $25 billion in taxpayer bailout money.
The company, which did not ask for the $25 billion it received, initially defended the trip after the Associated Press reported it had booked 12 nights starting Friday at the Wynn Las Vegas and the Encore Las Vegas. But within hours, investigators and lawmakers on Capitol Hill had scorned the bank, and the company canceled.
The conference is a Wells Fargo tradition. Previous all-expenses-paid trips have included helicopter rides, wine tasting, horseback riding in Puerto Rico and a private Jimmy Buffett concert.
"In light of the current environment, we have now decided to cancel this event as well," the company said Tuesday night in a news release that also said the it had never planned to use taxpayer bailout money for the trip.
Corporate retreats have drawn criticism since the bank bailout last fall. Congress scolded insurance giant American International Group Inc. for spending $440,000 on spa treatments for executives just days after the company took $85 billion from taxpayers. AIG has since canceled all such outings.
Because of the bailout and the recession, other banks have canceled employee outings, including Morgan Stanley, which informed employees Monday that an appreciation trip to Monte Carlo was off. Initially, Wells Fargo defended the trip and had no plans to cancel it.
Kevin Waetke, a spokesman for Wells Fargo, said the Las Vegas trip provided a "unique opportunity" for Wells Fargo employees and employees of newly acquired bank Wachovia Corp., "to focus on continuing to do all we can for U.S. homeowners."
On Capitol Hill, lawmakers disagreed.
"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."
The trip was to come on the heels of this week's announcement that Wells Fargo lost more than $2.3 billion in the last three months of 2008.