What's in a Name?

Qusair Mohamedbhai just wanted to open a bank account. Instead, he was labeled a terrorist.

Killmer had to explain the "camel jockey" comment to Mohamedbhai, who'd never heard the epithet before.

"I've never been one of those people who walks through life looking through a lens of racism," Mohamedbhai says. "You know, the people who when they are slighted in some way, if there's some sort of small injustice, they think that person must be racist. But ever since this happened, I've found myself thinking that way -- and it sucks. Like if the bartender takes too long to take my order or ignores me, I don't find myself thinking, 'Oh, well, they must be busy.' I find myself wondering if they're racist against Arabs. There is this new distrust in me, and that's one of the worst things that has come out of this."

Finally, the purported camel jockey had had enough. As Killmer pointed out, how could Mohamedbhai be a decent attorney standing up for the rights of others if he didn't even stand up for his own? "This case reflects the sad fact that illegal discrimination still poisons the lives of good, honest people in many aspects of their day-to-day lives," Killmer says.

Identity crisis: Qusair Mohamedbhai had a new job as 
a lawyer, not a terrorist.
Jim J. Narcy
Identity crisis: Qusair Mohamedbhai had a new job as a lawyer, not a terrorist.
Credit rating: Dan Heidel heard terrorizing news about 
his friend at a business meeting
Jim J. Narcy
Credit rating: Dan Heidel heard terrorizing news about his friend at a business meeting

On March 22, 2005, Killmer and Newman filed suit on Mohamedbhai's behalf against Commercial Federal -- now Bank of the West -- and Colorado Cheque Connection, charging "blatant racial profiling, slander and race-based refusal of service."

Genesis Anderson declined to talk with Westword. But in a deposition, she said that when Mohamedbhai asked to open an account, she followed standard bank protocol, first calling ChexSystems to run a background check (no cautionary information came up) and then Colorado Cheque Connection. Genevieve Babcock-Elder fielded the second call.

Once she heard Mohamedbhai's name, Babcock-Elder immediately started talking about terrorism. "I stayed on the phone with her for approximately three to five minutes," Anderson testified. "And during those three to five minutes, she was going -- relating everything that I was telling her in terms of the gentleman, his name and everything -- she was relating that back to 9/11 and, you know, the fact that this could be -- I don't know -- you know, terrorist-related....

"Ms. Babcock-Elder told me that Mr. Mohamedbhai's Social Security number had been recently issued in Florida, that Florida had a direct connection with the September 11, 2001, terrorist operations, and that some of the terrorists involved in September 11, 2001, events had trained in Canada and had entered the country through Canada, where Mr. Mohamedbhai had last lived. She then asked whether Mr. Mohamedbhai was accompanied by anyone, and told me that terrorists sometimes used Caucasian companions to make themselves look less conspicuous.... I made the decision not to open the personal checking account because I believed Ms. Babcock-Elder's statements that Mr. Mohamedbhai was a potential terrorist."

Babcock-Elder, who declined to speak with Westword, has denied saying that Mohamedbhai was a potential terrorist during that phone call with Anderson.

According to Bradley Ross-Shannon, Babcock-Elder's attorney, Colorado Cheque Connection handles between 25,000 and 30,000 calls each year on new-account inquiries. "And as far as I know, this is the first time there has ever been any sort of litigation," he says. "Colorado Cheque Connection is not to blame. It's the bank's responsibility. There was no proper identification given that day, and so, pursuant to the requirements of the business, a caution code was given. It's the bank's responsibility from there. The dispute is over recollections, and we dispute the teller's recollections."

Ross-Shannon hired Steven Linstrom, a former investigator with the Denver District Attorney's Office, to look into Babcock-Elder's handling of the background-check call. "The recent issuance of the Social Security number would be a 'red flag' inasmuch as a recently issued Social Security number indicates that the party is either a minor (juvenile), an appropriately documented resident alien, a naturalized citizen, or possibly a fraudulently issued or obtained SSAN," Linstrom determined in his report. "Therefore, additional questions would have to be asked, such as what type of identification is being presented, date of birth, how long has the party been in state, previous state residences, etc. Upon learning that Mr. Mohamedbhai had Canadian ID, had previously resided in Wyoming and did not have Colorado identification, a 'caution' based on the defendant's experience would have been totally appropriate."

In addition to conducting background checks, Colorado Cheque Connection regularly faxes alerts to hundreds of banks and financial institutions, as well as law-enforcement agencies. Under federal law, when a bank employee detects possible criminal offenses, he is obligated to submit a Suspicious Activity Report. Anderson never submitted an SAR, she testified, because when Colorado Cheque Connection sent a fax warning about Qusair Mohamedbhai, the terrorist, she thought that was sufficient. Colorado Cheque Connection denies ever sending such a fax.

Mohamedbhai finds it disturbing that a fax depicting him as a terrorist could have been placed on the desks of tellers and law-enforcement officials across the country. What if that fax should resurface later in his career? If his friend happened to hear Mohamedbhai referred to as a "terrorist" at an NACM meeting, how far could the trail go?

Babcock-Elder has denied referring to Mohamedbhai as a terrorist at that meeting. And besides, any statements made there were "private" and "confidential," says Ross-Shannon. "The plaintiff's damages, if any, were caused by Dan Heidel's false and inaccurate statements which he attributed to defendant Genevieve Babcock-Elder."

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