Whistleblower Craig E Simmons today filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against his former employer, the Screen Actors Guild Pension & Health Plan. And the fired high-ranking executive makes explosive allegations against CEO Bruce Dow who is still apparently employed there. These accusations have been informally leveled against Dow and the SAG P&HP for months now, but for the first time Simmons puts them into the record via his legal complaint. (Read the 19-page lawsuit here.) If true, they beg for a complete and independent investigation as well as housecleaning at SAG P&HP which governs more than $2 billion in assets on behalf of SAG members.
Simmons was executive director of SAGP&HP human resources and held other top titles, and is a lawyer. One of his attorneys on this lawsuit is the well-known Greg Smith, who is currently running for LA City Attorney. The complaint alleges that Simmons was wrongfully terminated after reporting illegal conduct by CEO Dow. Simmons repeatedly talked and wrote to SAG P&HP trustees and execs and claimed Dow was swindling the organization out of multi-millions. The lawsuit filed in LA Superior Court today alleges that:
– Dow underreported the amount of money embezzled by a former employee,
– Dow was sending insurance business to his wife and pocketing part of the premiums,
– Dow was paying his brother-in-law for doing no work
– Dow was using insider investment information to benefit the International Church Of The Foursquare Gospel where he was a practicing member
– Dow asked Simmons to lie to the trustees and to the Department Of Labor to coverup wrongdoing,
– Dow is guilty of “obstruction of justice”.
These claims are separate from Simmons’ already public allegations made in letters to the trustees about a former SAG P&H Plan employee who embezzled millions from the organization and apparently was never made to account for the missing money or his fraud.
SAG P&H bigwigs and their surrogates have been trying to move heaven and earth to discredit anyone making allegations against the organization, especially while the SAG-AFTRA merger is being voted up or down by the Screen Actors Guild membership right now. The merger plans right now contain no blueprint for how the two unions’ pension and health plans will be conducted because of no formal study by SAG and AFTRA leaders.
Present SAG Guild leadership likes to point out that the SAG P&H Plan is run separately from the union. But some of SAG Guild’s officers have been SAG P&HP trustees. For instance, at the time Simmons was fired, David White was President of the Board of Trustees of the SAG P&H Plans and the National Executive Director of the SAG Guild. Duncan Crabtree-Ireland is a Trustee of the SAG P&HP and the General Counsel of the SAG Guild. John McGuire is a Trustee of the SAG P&HP and the Senior Adviser of the SAG Guild.
UPDATE: In January, SAG P&HP said Dow had requested a leave of absence just as the scandal surrounding him was starting to become public. No investigation was ever announced. In my opinion, even the appearance of a coverup must stop immediately and an independent probe begun.]
In documents filed today by his attorneys asking for a jury trial, Simmons alleges that he was wrongfully terminated on March 25, 2011, because he wouldn’t cover up Dow’s alleged multi-million dollar embezzlement scheme of the SAG P&HP. The firing of Simmons, who had been at SAG-PPHP since summer 2008, came just over two months after he had been promoted to HR Executive Director on January 14, 2011. Under the complaint of Labor Code and Public Policy violations by SAG-PPHP, Simmons is seeking punitive damages “in a sum which is an amount appropriate to punish and set an example of said Defendants, to deter such conduct in the future and to set an example for others”.
The lawsuit says that, in the beginning of 2011, Dow was under investigation from the Department of Labor in regards to funneling “SAG-PPHP insurance business to his wife and pocketing a portion of the money on the insurance premiums” and providing a “phantom job” to his brother-in-law. This came, the complaint says, after Simmons had earlier reported to Board trustees Leah French and Duncan Crabtree-Ireland that Dow was “underreporting … fraud incidents by millions of dollars” in regards to another employee stealing from the fund.
In January 2011, Simmons says that, as various other SAG-PPHP employees were being interviewed about the matter by the Labor Department, Dow asked him to “lie to the Department Of Labor investigator by affirming that Dow’s brother-in-law was an employee of SAG-PPHP.” Simmons says he “refused” that request. Simmons says he also refused Dow’s request not to tell the Board about being interviewed by the DOL. Simmons alleges that Dow arranged for “another Plan Executive Amanda Bernard to be interviewed” instead. There is no indication in the suit what Bernard did or did not tell the DOL.
Simmons says that, nearly a month and a half later, he was called into “a previously unscheduled budget meeting” on March 9, 2011 to be confronted by Dow, COO Christopher Dowdell, and attorney Marc Allaira. (Simmons says in the lawsuit he was also investigating Dowdell “for misconduct” at the time.) The meeting went badly, according to the lawsuit, and “Dow attacked Plaintiff’s credibility and integrity by making false accusations of misconduct against him”. Afterwards, Simmons was suspended from his job and “escorted off the premises”.
The suit goes on, Simmons was never “disciplined” or had any complaints about his job performance the entire time he was at SAG, yet he was fired on March 25, 2011. That was the day after he says he spoke to an unnamed SAG-PPHP Board Trustee about “Dow’s illegal and unethical conduct” and arranged a meeting “the following week to further discuss these issues”. Simmons says he was “informed and believes that Dow was informed of Plaintiff’s complaints to the SAG-PPHP Trustee and terminated him in retaliation.”
I’ve previously reported exclusively that, since he was fired, whistleblower Craig Simmons has been telling federal authorities what he knows about the Screen Actors Guild Pension & Health Plan scandal. During October 2011, November 2011, and December 2011, he testified under oath during three sessions in Los Angeles with the FBI, IRS, Securities & Exchange Commission, Department Of Justice, and Department Of Labor inside the Federal Building in Westwood. My information is that the authorities were taking copious notes while Simmons spoke. Insiders also told me that federal investigations are now ongoing into not just one embezzlement and cover-up inside the SAG P&H Plan but also another fraud and cover-up there which makes two scandals altogether. I understand the FBI asked Simmons not to go public about the probes and he has not spoken publicly about his whistleblowing. [See Simmons’ letter here to the SAG P&HP 36 Board Of Trustees, and Simmons’ letter here to the Department Of Labor, which led to the federal probes.]
Editor-in-Chief Nikki Finke – tip her here.
LA city attorney candidate takes on SAG Plan whistleblower case
In a sign that there is more here than meets the eye, prominent litigator Greg Smith, who has a long track record of winning large claims on behalf of fired public sector employees especially police officers and firemen, has taken on the case of Craig Simmons, the fired senior staff member of SAG’s pension and health plan.
According to a copy of the complaint posted on the site of Deadline Hollywood, Smith has filed a suit against the plan and as yet unnamed individuals for wrongful termination in connection with Simmons’ complaints about wrongdoing by the CEO of the $2 billion Plan, Bruce Dow, and others. Smith was profiled in the Los Angeles Times recently in connection with his campaign for the position of Los Angeles city attorney. Smith is joined in representing Simmons by Los Angeles attorney Robert Stanford Brown. (Brown is the son of Hall of Fame football player Bob “The Boomer” Brown, who played for the Philadelphia Eagles, Los Angeles Rams and Oakland Raiders.)
The new lawsuit comes as SAG itself is being sued by its own members for failing to provide union members adequate information about the future of the pension and health care plan in connection with an ongoing vote to merge SAG with sister guild AFTRA. A decision on the latter suit is expected any day now as a planned hearing scheduled for Monday was recently vacated by the judge, which indicates that he is close to deciding the case based on the papers already in front of him. No doubt, a copy of the Simmons complaint will also be filed with the federal court considering the request for an injunction to stop the merger proposal.
Simmons was fired last year. A letter he wrote detailed numerous allegations about wrongdoing by Dow and others at the pension plan. Near the end of the year, CEO Dow left the fund temporarily on leave in connection with a health issue and has not yet returned to his position. There is speculation that the leave was aimed at easing him out of the fund.
Meanwhile, a report on Deadline that the Plan was the subject of a federal investigation led the Plan’s trustees, which include both labor and management representatives, to admit publicly that the Department of Labor was conducting a field audit of the fund, the toughest form of audit that the DOL can conduct of a pension plan. Deadline has reported that other federal agencies are looking at the fund, but the trustees appeared to deny that possibility.
Unconfirmed reports suggest that yet another senior official of the fund known to be an opponent of Dow was also fired today.
In light of this information it would not be surprising if the attorneys representing AFTRA in the merger would have some tough questions for SAG about the risks that AFTRA might be taking on board if the merger were to proceed.
Thanks to http://www.ru4sagmerger.com/ for the above postings.
The Ol’ SAG Watchdog