ST. LOUIS • A 97-year-old St. Louis man who ran a jewelry repair shop downtown for decades after emigrating from Hungary believes Bank of America has cheated him out of more than $77,000 of his retirement money.
Karlo Tanko, a widower who lives in the city’s Boulevard Heights neighborhood, sued Bank of America on Friday in St. Louis Circuit Court, accusing his former branch at 6639 South Kingshighway of liquidating one of his savings accounts without his consent by forging his signature on a withdrawal slip.
Around the time his wife of 69 years died in June 2012, Tanko transferred five CD accounts from Bank of America to U.S. Bank, according to the lawsuit and his lawyer, Albert Watkins. Tanko soon realized he never received statements from one of accounts that held $77,477.51. He inquired with U.S. Bank and was told it was never transferred. At that point, he went back to Bank of America and was told the account didn’t exist.
Last year, after four years of bouncing back and forth between banks, a Bank of America employee dug up a Nov. 5, 2003, withdrawal confirmation slip with his signature, confirming the account’s closure, the lawsuit says.
But Tanko says he never ordered the withdrawal and claims his signature was forged. Tanko’s lawyer hired Tim Morgan, a handwriting analyst from the Cape Girardeau area, who compared the signed withdrawal slip to copies of Tanko’s signature from around 2003.
Morgan’s analysis noted numerous differences between the signatures and concluded that “it is highly unlikely” that Tanko “wrote the questioned document.” Watkins said he provided the bank with documentation of the alleged forgery and was met with “radio silence.”
A Bank of America spokeswoman declined to comment Monday.
Tanko was not available for an interview Monday because he is recovering from a minor stroke a couple of weeks ago, Watkins said.
Tanko served in the Yugoslav army in World War II and arrived the United States in 1968 after years of waiting for his paperwork to be approved, Watkins said. Tanko opened his shop at 315 North Ninth Street downtown shortly after arriving in St. Louis, became a U.S. citizen in 1975 and ran his shop for 37 years.
“Our nation was founded on the backs of people like Mr. Tanko who came over here literally with nothing,” Watkins said. “And now you have a 97-year-old with an unbelievable history as an integral part of our city as a small businessman, a jeweler who is now having to fight off ... a behemoth known as Bank of America.”
Tanko’s suit seeks to recover the $77,477.51 from his savings account, interest on that account, attorney’s fees and unspecified punitive damages.
“We’ve got a 97-year-old man who is in his twilight years who’s not trying to hoodwink anybody,” Watkins said. “He’s not asking for anything more.”