Insurance Investigation Leads to More Guilty Pleas
By Jenny Anderson
Two midlevel employees of the Zurich American Insurance Company pleaded guilty yesterday to criminal charges related to the rigging of bids that investigators say was organized by the Global Broking unit of Marsh & McLennan.
Five people have now pleaded guilty in a expanding investigation of the insurance industry.
The two Zurich employees, Edward Coughlin and John Keenan, faced felony charges for violating the state's antitrust law, called the Donnelly Act, but a New York State judge permitted them to enter a misdemeanor plea based on their cooperation with the investigation being conducted by New York's attorney general, Eliot Spitzer.
Both face a maximum sentence of one year in state prison.
Marsh brokers instructed Mr. Coughlin and Mr. Keenan, senior underwriters in the Specialties Excess Casualty unit at Zurich, to submit fake bids on business while Marsh had already decided which insurance company would win the bid, Mr. Spitzer's complaint said.
The fake bids, referred to as "B quotes" allowed Marsh to present some semblance of competition while in fact the broker - who is supposed to act in a neutral manner - had already picked a winner.
In one e-mail message, dated Feb. 19, 2003, a Marsh broker directed Mr. Coughlin to see "A.I.G.'s number below and please e-mail me a B quote." Attachments to that message included correspondence by two Marsh brokers in which they compare bids already in hand - one for $450,000 from A.I.G. and another for $265,000 and asked Mr. Coughlin to "have Zurich come in anywhere in between."
Mr. Keenan's lawyer, Preston Burton of Caplin & Drysdale, declined to comment. Lew Wiener, Mr. Coughlin's lawyer, said: "Mr. Coughlin pled to a Class A misdemeanor. He intends to cooperate fully with the attorney general's office." Zurich's lawyer, Stephen A. Best of LeBoeuf, Lamb, Green & MacRae, also declined to comment.
Zurich, which had previously suspended the two employees as a result of its own internal review, said that its review was continuing and that it would continue to cooperate with the New York attorney general and other regulators.
Zurich also said that it had received a subpoena from the attorney general's office and from the Securities and Exchange Commission seeking information on the sale of finite insurance contracts, which can smooth out corporate earnings. St. Paul Travelers and Ace have also disclosed that they had received similar subpoenas.
With the two guilty pleas, employees of three insurance companies have now been charged.
Two employees of American International Group and one employee at Ace previously entered guilty pleas to charges of engaging in bid-rigging with Marsh. On Oct. 14, Mr. Spitzer's office sued Marsh, contending that the company cheated its corporate clients by rigging bids on insurance and for accepting outsize fees for steering business to insurers that paid such fees.
"The investigation is proceeding carefully and methodically," Mr. Spitzer said yesterday in a statement.
Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company