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.

Insurers Will Be Found Not Guilty of Fraud in Sandy Payouts, Expert Says

Insurers will be vindicated of accusations of fraud for rejecting flood damage claims made by Superstorm Sandy victims, an insurance industry expert predicts.

New York’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has opened an investigation into accusations against insurers Wright National Flood Insurance Co., units of Travelers Cos. and Hartford Financial Services Group Inc., which contract with the government’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), of rejecting property flood damage claims of Sandy victims based on falsified engineering reports, Bloomberg reported this week.

Called a Write Your Own program (WYO), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) allows participating property and casualty insurers to write and service the Standard Flood Insurance Policy in their own names.

Under the WYO program, insurers receive an expense allowance for policies written and claims processed while the federal government retains responsibility for underwriting losses. The WYO Program operates as part of the NFIP, and is subject to its rules and regulations, according to FEMA, which oversees the flood insurance program.

“I am confident that the attorney general will be satisfied that insurers involved with the Write Your Own program were operating in a manner consistent with NFIP guidelines,” said Robert P. Hartwig, Ph.D., president of the Insurance Information Institute.

Lawsuits in federal court accuse the insurers of colluding with engineering firms and others to deny or reduce damage payouts based on fraudulent reports. Schneiderman is investigating whether any crimes were committed. According to The Hartford Courant, more than 1,000 lawsuits are involved, alleging that homeowners were underpaid by insurance companies. Attorneys said insurers accepted altered engineering reports in a “peer review” process.

Insurers point out that the property disputes involve only about 1% of all flood claims and that the peer-review process is common practice—a quality control measure to make sure the federal government doesn’t overpay on flood claims.

Regarding the lawsuits that have been filed, Hartwig said, “I am equally confident that the evidence will indicate once again that insurers were operating in a manner consistent with NFIP guidelines.”

He explained that the lawsuits lodged against insurers alleging that certain insurers and firms hired to perform engineering analyses on flood-damaged properties were acting together to reduce or deny claims, “reflect a fundamental  misunderstanding of how the NFIP WYO program works. Engineering firms routinely and appropriately use a peer review process to review work performed. Occasionally, that process leads to additional opinions being reflected in an engineering report, which can thus impact the dollar amount received by claimants. This is part of a routine and necessary quality-control process.”

Hartwig said that this process is “no different than peer review in other technical and scientific disciplines. Using medicine as an example, test results are routinely reviewed by more than one medical professional before a diagnosis and course of treatments are rendered.”

Moreover, he added, insurers and the engineering firms hired are not financially motivated “to pay claimants anything other than a fair and accurate assessment of the losses compensable under the NFIP policy purchased. Insurers that consistently underpay or overpay claims can be removed from the program by the NFIP/FEMA.”

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.”