Longform

What's in a Name?

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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."

Babcock-Elder did admit to using the term "camel jockey" during depositions. "The plaintiff is not seeking any damages from that encounter, so it is irrelevant," Ross-Shannon says. "It's a red herring. It's something they want to use to inflame the jury, but it has no relevance."

Mohamedbhai's attorneys feel otherwise.

"When Babcock-Elder spewed that 'camel jockey' comment, her true motivations were immediately revealed," says Mari Newman. "There is no doubt that she racially profiled Mr. Mohamedbhai."

In June, a California jury awarded $61 million to a pair of Lebanese-American FedEx drivers who claimed they were continually harassed by a manager who called them "camel jockeys" and "terrorists." That award was recently whittled down to $12.4 million, and the figure is still under appeal.

"This is a lawsuit about money," says Ross-Shannon. "He's seeking money. And I think it's interesting to note that Mohamedbhai has actively publicized the case. When the lawsuit was filed, he went on TV, there were articles in the paper. I think that's of note."

The story got far more play in Canada, where it ran in papers across the country, than it did in Colorado, where Mohamedbhai's case is now set for a July trial.

"I'm not looking for my payday for this, but I know how the law works," Mohamedbhai says. "The bank and Colorado Cheque Connection don't think that what happened in this case is a big deal because there's no real quantifiable damage. I wasn't fired from my job, nothing bad happened to me economically. But say someone was sexually harassed at work just up to the point where they are not actually fired. Are there no damages there? When Rosa Parks was asked to move to the back of the bus and refused, were there damages there? No. None. But yet her actions changed the way the law perceives racism, how we gauge discrimination."

"It's just really disappointing to me that in this day and age, someone like Ms. Babcock-Elder can hold to such archaic values, judge someone purely by their name and turn them into a criminal," says Heidel, who now works in Colorado Springs and no longer catches the bus in Capitol Hill. "The real troubling thought is that this is just one instance. It makes you wonder how many other people this has happened to."

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Adam Cayton-Holland