Greenberg, New York State Settle Long-Running Civil Case

One of Wall Street’s longest-running dramas closed Feb. 10 as New York State and Maurice “Hank” Greenberg finally ended a legal clash which began in 2005 under the stewardship of then Attorney General Elliot Spitzer.

Former American International Group, Inc. CEO Greenberg and the Attorney General’s office reached a settlement over accusations that the company engaged in fraudulent transactions to boost reserves and hide losses.

Greenberg, who was chairman and CEO of AIG from 1967 until his ouster in 2005 and now serves as chairman and CEO of C.V. Starr & Co., will pay some $9 million to end his role in the saga. Also, Howard Smith, former AIG CFO and Greenberg’s lieutenant will pay $900,000 to settle the charges stemming from two alleged transactions designed to misrepresent company finances.

This included a $500 million deal in the year 2000 with reinsurer General Re, part of businessman Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc., to pad AIG’s loss reserves. Greenberg allegedly initiated the Gen Re deal with a call to the company’s CEO.

The two former AIG leaders were also said to be involved in a deal with Capco Reinsurance Co., which masked a $210 million underwriting loss as an investment loss.

The sums paid by the men are related to performance bonuses earned from 2001 to 2004, according to New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who inherited the long-running conflict. Schneiderman sought to ban the men from the securities industry and from serving as directors and officers of public companies as part of the settlement, which ultimately did not include these provisions.

Schneiderman had previously dropped a $6 billion damage claim against Greenberg and others, once a class action settlement was approved in 2013 under which Greenberg paid $115 million to AIG shareholders.

A 2009 settlement with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission over charges related to AIG‘s accounting saw Greenberg pay $15 million and Smith $1.5 million to the agency.

Late last year Greenberg and the Attorney General’s office turned to mediation after trial testimony had already begun in state court. The mediation, which ultimately produced the settlement, was run by alternative dispute resolution specialist Kenneth Feinberg.

The finale to the case was perhaps more of a whimper than a bang, with settlements hardly headline-grabbing and no one admitting to much more than accounting slips.

In a press release from the N.Y. State Attorney General’s Office, Schneiderman sounded a triumphant tone. “Today’s agreement settles the indisputable fact that Mr. Greenberg has denied for 12 years: that Mr. Greenberg orchestrated two transactions that fundamentally misrepresented AIG’s finances,” Schneiderman said in the statement. “After over a decade of delays, deflections, and denials by Mr. Greenberg, we are pleased that Mr. Greenberg has finally admitted to his role in these fraudulent transactions and will personally pay $9 million to the State of New York.”

Greenberg, who was unapologetic, in his statement said, “The Gen Re transaction was done for the purpose of increasing AIG’s loss reserves, and the Capco transaction was done for the purpose of converting underwriting losses into investment losses. I knew these facts at the time that I initiated, participated in and approved these two transactions…As a result of these transactions, AIG’s publicly-filed consolidated financial statements inaccurately portrayed the accounting, and thus the financial condition and performance for AIG’s loss reserves and underwriting income.”

The pundits had their say as well, split as to what it all meant.

“The taxpayers of New York State should be furious,” said the Wall Street Journal’s Paul Gigot, editorial page editor. “The $9 million fine amounts to pin money for Mr. Greenberg…It won’t come close to covering the state’s costs for pursuing the case over so many years…The real lessons of the Greenberg case start with the absurd lengths that progressive prosecutors will go to punish capitalists they don’t like,” Gigot said.

Mr. Greenberg’s lawyer David Bois called the deal with the Attorney General a “nuisance settlement,” according to the New York Times.

Others were less forgiving of Mr. Greenberg. “Just because he hasn’t pled guilty to fraud doesn’t mean he’s been vindicated,” David Schiff, a former insurance analyst who followed AIG, told the Times.

Natural Barriers Promote Coastal Resilience, Reduce Costs

WetlandsNEW YORK—Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy had devastating impacts on the northeast coastline, debilitating parts of New York and New Jersey. While also in the path of the storms, Delaware saw minimal impact, which the state’s former head of natural resources and environmental control, Colin O’Mara, attributed to its conservation efforts.

Now president and chief executive officer of the National Wildlife Federation, O’Mara spoke at the New York Recovery and Resilience Leadership Forum here June 2, explaining that the state had been building up natural barriers and testing its resilience with various resources.

“During the storm we were checking sandbags and making sure systems were in place and I was wondering if these systems were going to hold,” he said. “What we found was that the system did work.” He noted, “One of the reasons you haven’t heard much about what happened in Delaware, compared to New Jersey and New York, is the state’s investments in wetlands, living shoreline projects and oyster beds. These natural systems can absorb the shock of crashing waves and absorb water.”

A living shoreline is a habitat-friendly alternative to rip rap, bulkhead or stone revetments, creating wetland habitat that supports blue crabs, oysters, fish, birds and plants. They can also stop erosion, increase water quality and protect the shoreline from erosion, according to the state of Delaware’s website.

A number of municipalities across the country are making significant advances in natural infrastructure, O’Mara said, “and you are not seeing big taxpayer bailouts of those communities because these systems work.”

At the same time, he noted, many areas do not encourage these types of investments. “In fact, there are a number of policies that are actually putting people in harm’s way,” he said. “We’ve been trying to think through how to have traditional market forces work to the advantage of resilience, instead of having a massive bailout after an event, which is a liability to the taxpayer.”

Conversations about mitigating with natural resources, however, often get nowhere because people believe their insurance programs will bail them out. “Because of government programs, people are actually paying so much less than the insurance value they are receiving, that natural resources as a solution will lose,” O’Mara said. As a result, “All of a sudden that coast seems more developable because the landowner developing it isn’t actually bearing the cost.” The real problem is that, after the money has been made and a homeowner is living in the house, the risk is still there. “So you’ve privatized the problem, but you have socialized all of the risk,” he said.

Instead, O’Mara believes it is critical that information about the real costs of destroying a dune, along with the protections it brings be available. “This isn’t an easy conversation, but it is actually an area of commonality,” he said. “Whether you want to reduce government spending, reduce liability or foster more private sector activity, this is an area that shouldn’t be partisan at all.”

Projects of this nature are currently in the works in New York City; Cape May, New Jersey; and Boston, Massachusetts. Such spending on the front end produces much higher savings in the long run, O’Mara said, noting that putting natural resources to work can lower insurance rates and generate private sector involvement.

“We can do things a lot smarter and be a lot safer than we are right now,” O’Mara said. “This should be as bipartisan as anything we do in this country. The economics make sense, the science makes sense and the social science makes sense.” After all, at the end of the day, “people just want to be safe,” he said.

The New Reality of Weather Risk

What do you do when you are responsible for the safety of town, county or state residents and forecasts call for drastic weather conditions? Risk professionals can come under criticism if they are overly cautious, yet under-reacting can mean lives are at stake.

Take the current situation here in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Predictions called for one- to three-feet of snow and blizzard conditions over a wide swath of the tri-state area and states of emergency were declared. Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York yesterday called for a full travel ban in 13 counties, beginning at 11:00 p.m. Those breaking the ban were subject to fines of up to $300, he said.

“With forecasts showing a potentially historic blizzard for Long Island, New York City, and parts of the Hudson Valley, we are preparing for the worst and I urge all New Yorkers to do the same – take this storm seriously and put safety first,” Gov. Cuomo said.

In actuality, however, the storm moved east and north, driving the brunt of the heavy snow and blizzard conditions through Long Island, New York and north through Connecticut and towards Boston.

Today at 7:30 a.m. the travel ban was lifted in most areas of New York and it was announced that public transportation would resume on a weekend schedule. Travel is also permitted in New Jersey and parts of Connecticut. But with snowfall much less than anticipated in many areas, some are questioning the travel ban. Connecticut Gov. Daniel Malloy, however, credited the travel ban and people’s cooperation, for the low number of automobile accidents during the storm—only 15 in the entire state.

“I would rather lean towards safety, because I have seen the consequences the other way, and it gets very frightening very quickly,” Cuomo told the media this morning. He noted, “Recently in New York we weren’t prepared in Buffalo.” In November, more than six feet of snow was dumped on Buffalo, claiming four lives. He also pointed out that the impacts of Hurricane Irene were underestimated. The belief was that most damage would occur in coastal areas, when the reality was that most destruction happened upstate.

This dilemma is widespread, from hurricanes to thunderstorms to wildfires. How far does a state’s governor go when preparing for an emergency? As Cuomo and many others have said, the responsible action is to put safety first.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio defended the decision to shut down the city in a press conference today. “We prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” he said, adding that the good news is that “the people of the city understood how serious this was.” The travel ban kept people safe and allowed the sanitation department—2,400 workers—to more easily clear the roads and deal with the storm’s aftermath, he said.

Asked if he is concerned that New Yorkers won’t take precautions next time, as was the case with Superstorm Sandy, de Blasio said he is not. “The world has changed a lot in the last few years. Point one: we are going to be very forceful in our messages to people when we sense danger. This is what you saw in the last 48 hours—there is no guarantee what you will get with the weather.”

In the future, he said, “I guarantee, if we ever get to the point in any crisis where we say the word ‘evacuate’ it’s going to be very forceful. It’s going to be constantly reiterated and we are going to put a lot of muscle into that.”

Another reality, he said, is that “Extreme weather is becoming much more common” as we have seen extreme weather events “over and over again, in a kind of progression that was unimaginable just a few years ago. People understand it. They understand that global warming is one of the causes and they understand the vulnerability and that we have to look at things differently. That is one of the reasons they took last night so seriously and acted accordingly.”

 

NY Granted Temporary Restraining Order to Stop Lyft

New York State Superintendent of Financial Services Benjamin M. Lawsky and Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced on Friday that they had filed for a temporary restraining order against the scheduled New York City launch of car-sharing service Lyft.

The car sharing service, known for its pink mustache decorations, has been operating since April in Buffalo and Rochester and had announced it would begin operations in Brooklyn and Queens, without getting a green light from the state.

“After Lyft rejected a reasonable request by the state to delay its launch, we filed a motion for a temporary restraining order in State Supreme Court this morning,” Lawsky said in a statement. “As a result of that action, the court has granted the state a temporary restraining order preventing Lyft from launching this evening in New York City. We will return to court on Monday, to address issues pertaining to Buffalo and Rochester in addition to New York City.”

Lawsky continued that the action was pursued “only after repeatedly offering to work with Lyft in order to ensure that its business practices complied with the law. Instead of collaborating with the state to help square innovation with statute and protect the public, as other technology companies have done as recently as this week, Lyft decided to move ahead and simply ignore state and local laws.”

He said the company’s arguments are a “disingenuous attempt to disguise old-fashioned law-breaking that jeopardizes public safety.”

Lyft is a car-sharing service that allows a car’s owner to turn an auto into a personal Zipcar and rent it by the hour or the day. The owner sets a price, and an intermediary service lists the car online, connects the owner with people who want to it and takes a portion of the fee.

At issue is insurance for car share vehicles. While car-sharing has been sanctioned in California, Oregon and Washington, some insurers are cautioning against it. In the states that have passed laws, legislation prevents insurers from canceling the policy of an owner who rents a vehicle. Car-share programs are also required to provide liability insurance approved by the state.

The National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies (NAMIC) recently pointed out that the rise of formal car-sharing programs throughout the United States has uncovered numerous insurance-related challenges, especially over the role of the car owner’s personal insurer and what exposure it may have.

John Murphy, NAMIC’s state affairs director for the Northeast said, “With a car-sharing program, an insurer lacks important information for gauging the risk. Car sharing is essentially a commercial enterprise, and the personal auto carrier should not be required to cover a risk that it never intended to cover.”