Longform

What's in a Name?

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"There are obviously worse things that can happen to a person," Mohamedbhai says. "But to me, being called a terrorist, I would rather be called a pedophile or a racist. When you really think about what they are calling you, it's bad. And having an Arabic last name, living in America and having people accuse you of being a terrorist and being a foreigner, it's not a good thing."

On August 3, 2004, Killmer notified both Commercial Federal and Colorado Cheque Connection that his firm was representing Mohamedbhai in connection with the denial of service. A week later, Commercial Federal responded to Killmer's letter by noting that the bank had conducted a "thorough investigation" of the matter, had spoken with all relevant employees, and had determined that Mohamedbhai was denied the account because of insufficient identification.

In her own response, Genevieve Babcock-Elder told Killmer that "I, in my capacity as owner of Colorado Cheque Connection, and as the individual directly involved in the new account inquiry by Commercial Federal Bank, categorically deny all of the allegations involving your client."

But when Zachary Lane, an intern at the office of Killmer, Lane & Newman, had delivered the letter of representation to Babcock-Elder, he'd overheard a comment so odd that Killmer had him make an official statement. As Lane recalled it, "She took the envelope and asked, 'Are you with Killmer?' I told her, 'Yes, I am with Killmer, Lane and Newman.' She then said, 'Well, okay.' Feeling that I had no more business with Ms. Babcock-Elder, I turned and walked toward the door and opened it. As I took my first step through the doorway, I heard her say, presumably to a co-worker, 'This must be about that camel jockey.'"

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.

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."

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Adam Cayton-Holland