By Raiza Giorgi

Santa Ynez business owner Gabriele Santi was left frustrated and bewildered when his local bank branch abruptly closed his accounts.

He said he walked into his local Rabobank branch recently and was handed a letter stating that the bank was terminating the accounts for his business, the Second Amendment Gun Shop in Santa Ynez.

“I have never had an incident with Rabobank and this came as a shock, quite literally. I am usually a loud guy, but I was quiet,” Santi said.

According to the bank’s letter, “we are required by federal law to exercise due diligence and understand the financial transactions of our customers. When we are unable to meet the standards imposed by law, we have to take appropriate action to reduce risk to the bank.”

“I literally have no idea what that means. I haven’t broken any laws. In fact, I supply most of the local law enforcement with their guns and ammunition, and this decision is just political,” Santi said.

Rabobank declined comment on Santi’s situation, saying they couldn’t discuss matters about customers because of privacy concerns.

“We periodically and impartially examine merchant categories as a whole to help determine our ability to consistently meet regulatory and internal risk standards. We acknowledge that this sometimes results in difficult decisions,” Rabobank spokesman Gregory Jones said.

When the Star asked whether it was closing the accounts for all “questionable or high risk” businesses, Rabobank did not respond.

When Santi posted the bank’s letter on his Facebook page, he immediately got comments from friends and family who said they were outraged by Rabobank’s decision.

“I’ve been banking with Rabobank for 6 years but after seeing this I plan to switch,” said Jared Michael, a friend of Santi’s.

Several others contacted the Star to say they would be closing their accounts as well.

“I have a Rabobank account and as of tomorrow (April 7) I will be switching,” said Devon Williams.

Santi acknowledged that Rabobank has the right to close an account, but he felt the action was unethical. He also wondered why he had been singled out.

Santi referred to Operation Choke Point, a 2013 initiative of the U.S. Department of Justice under the Obama administration that would investigate banks that do business with firearms dealers or companies involved in online gambling, pharmaceutical sales, tobacco sales or pornography, among others on a list.

Critics of operation said at the time that it targeted businesses without first having shown that the targeted companies had violated the law, according to a Washington Post article in May 2014.

“Do you know the amount of background checks I had to go through to get my licenses and permits? I am reviewed annually by either ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives), California Department of Justice, and other agencies,” Santi said.

He said he has also worked for more than 30 years in the security business.

Rabobank’s California unit recently had to pay $369 million to settle allegations of money laundering from Mexican drug sales and organized crime through branches near the Mexican border.

When the Star asked if this was the reason that Santi’s business account was closed, Rabobank did not respond.

Santi said he is trusted by law enforcement agencies because he is the only permitted gun store in Santa Barbara County that a permit sell the kind of weapons they need. He said he works with 16 agencies locally that would otherwise have to drive to Los Angeles or San Jose to meet their requirements.

Santi said he has no ill will toward Rabobank and has already found another bank to work with.

“I have nothing against any of the employees at the local branches as they are my friends and I know they had no decision in this,” Santi said.