Haile SunTrust safe deposit boxes destroyed in mix-up
Published: Friday, February 1, 2013 at 8:12 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, February 1, 2013 at 8:12 p.m.
During a routine remodeling at a SunTrust bank in Haile Plantation, workers hauled old equipment to be recycled and destroyed. Three bays of safe deposit boxes were supposed to be empty — one of them was not.
In a mistake they blame on human error, the bank says 28 safe deposit boxes were accidentally destroyed in December, with some of the bank's customers' most prized and important possessions inside.
One victim, who lost the deed to his house, his birth certificate, savings bonds and other important identification papers, said he's monitoring his credit statements to make sure the accident wasn't a theft. He asked The Sun not to use his name in this article.
"I want a letter from the bank that explains what happened. Right now I can't prove I own my house. I can't even prove I was born in this country," the man said. "Sure I'm frustrated. That's where you put irreplaceable things. I'm about ready to stuff the mattress with anything important."
Another man, Larry Dimatteo, 55, lost birth certificates, signed wills and at least $120,000 in government savings bonds.
"I was really upset, but more dumbfounded," he said. "What should be the securest of places to put your stuff was not at all."
Both men said SunTrust assured them the bank would take care of all expenses incurred as a result of the mistake, but both men expressed disappointment at the amount of time that has passed.
"I'm very comfortable with the bank's assurances," he said. "However, I'm not overly impressed by their follow-up."
The unidentified victim said a bank manager told him some people lost irreplaceable jewelry in the mix-up and were much worse off than he was.
According to an Alachua County Sheriff's Office report, a sheriff's deputy contacted Branch Manager Brian Jowers on Dec. 26, after one of the victims was told to contact police. Jowers told the deputy he had just started at the branch and they were doing some renovations, starting with the older safe deposit boxes. He said a contractor removed the boxes. In a follow-up interview on Jan. 2, Jowers told deputies the security company Diebold inadvertently destroyed the boxes, and that they hadn't been first drilled into to verify they were empty.
When reached for comment, a spokesman for Diebold said the company is conducting an internal investigation to see what happened.
"Customer service is paramount to what we do," Diebold spokesman Mike Jacobsen said, "and we're working with SunTrust to resolve the situation."
Jowers declined to comment for the article, but instead referred The Sun to a SunTrust spokesperson, who said they were reaching out to affected clients and working with them on a case-by-case basis to address the issue.
"I can acknowledge that 28 safety deposit boxes were mistakenly destroyed due to human error during recent renovations being made to the Haile Plantation branch," spokesman Hugh Suhr said, "including the replacement of some unused older boxes."
Now a month later, victims in the case say, despite assurances, the bank is not moving quickly enough to rectify the situation.
"They told me it would be about a week and it's been a month," Dimatteo said, "I get a little frustrated as it goes on. If it's uncertain, they should just simply say that."
According to Alachua County sheriff's spokesman Art Forgey, no criminal charges have been filed.
The man whose safe deposit box was destroyed who declined to be named said Diebold was only supposed to remove two sets of safe deposit boxes, but somehow took a third set of 28 boxes.
"My first question is ‘how can this happen?' First of all, isn't someone from the bank supposed to accompany you to do anything in that area? I assume they wouldn't give them free reign, and you'd think someone from the bank would notice if they took an extra bay of safe deposit boxes," he said. "Was everything really destroyed or was this fraud? Either this was the dumbest thing imaginable or a brilliant way to pull off a crime."