Nikki Updated!!!! And the “Hits” Just Keep Coming??? (Latest from Variety on this!!!!!)
EXCLUSIVE: I’ve learned that 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 tell 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.] So Deadline is the first to break this important news.
My understanding is that when Simmons went in to testify, the feds already had documents in their possession outlining what embezzlements and cover-ups may have taken place. However, I can also now confirm that federal investigators last week and this week arrived at SAG P&H Plan offices in Southern California and in Massachusetts and carried out several dozen boxes of paperwork to unmarked cars waiting outside. (Did Federal Officials “Raid” The SAG P&H Plan Offices?) New information reaching me is that this visit took place on Wednesday, March 7th, and not on Friday, March 9th, as I’d previously reported. And a few weeks earlier a man identifying himself as an investigator came into the offices at 4 PM with a copy machine on big dolly and spent 4 to 5 hours Xeroxing documents. And today New England SAG member James McIsaac wrote on Facebook from Massachusetts that “My local pres just confirmed the FBI picked up some papers at the P&HP office.” I’ve received more confirmations that the visits were in connection with official probes into the SAH P&HP wrongdoing.
In my opinion, it’s a day late and a dollar short for the SAG P&H Plan to come clean about exactly what is going on regarding any and all city, county, and/or federal investigations into allegations of embezzlements and cover-ups. (In fact I am in a possession of an internal SAG P&HP memo instructing staff to tell any callers about my article to say, “No, nothing happened on Friday” — because it took place that Wednesday. Talk about parsing!) Nothing worse than if that organizations is accused of trying to cover-up the cover-up of the fraud. And nothing worse than these probes intensifying during the membership vote on the pending SAG-AFTRA merger. Because no future plans for the two unions’ pension and health plans – not even whether they’ll be operated separately or combined — have been revealed or even formally studied by SAG and/or AFTRA leaderships. (SAG always points out that the SAG P&H Plan is run separately from the guild.)
Craig Simmons, of course, is the veteran SAG P&H Plan high-ranking executive and attorney who first discovered what he alleges are several embezzlement schemes and cover-ups inside the organization. He maintains that the fraud involved tens of millions of dollars and that, when he discovered it, he was asked to stop his investigation and lie to authorities about the wrongdoing. When he refused, he was fired. On August 23, 2011, Simmons wrote personalized private letters detailing the scandal to all 36 members of the SAG P&H Plan Board Of Trustees — read it here.
Simmons gave the Trustees two weeks to remedy the situation or warned he was going to federal authorities. Which he did and sent a September 14, 2011, letter directly to the U.S. Department Of Labor. (Read it here…) His Fall testimony in front of various federal authorities is a direct outgrowth of his whistleblowing.
The Ol’ SAG Watchdog
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Pension plan trustee against merger
Carlson: Uniting SAG, AFTRA plans would create ‘staggering’ burden
“These statements are patently untrue,” Carlson said. “They mislead SAG members by lulling them into the false belief that these lawyers could or did reach such a conclusion.”
The unions’ summary of the feasibility study – which contains opinions of seven attorneys with experience in the field – also notes that several hundred multiemployer pensions have merged over the past 25 years, and there is no legal obstacle to merging the SAG and AFTRA pension and health plans. In addition, it says that multiemployer plan mergers do not pose any increased risk of loss of benefits.
Merger backers are asserting that the SAG-AFTRA combo will increase bargaining strength and represent a first step toward solving the problem of performers not qualifying for coverage under separate SAG and AFTRA health and pension plans. Carlson asserted that if the plans were to be merged, they would then be required to pay out more benefits without accruing additional income.
“This is a staggering financial burden which the plans cannot endure without either lowering benefits, increasing the qualification threshold or infusing additional funding into the plan,” Carlson said. “The financial burden that would result if the split earnings problem is ‘solved’ does not currently exist. This transparent outcome has been concealed from SAG members.”
SAG and AFTRA have touted the merger by telling members that the new SAG-AFTRA will have increased power at the negotiating table.
“Keep your benefits safe by making us all stronger,” the unions said in a recent postcard. “Bargaining strength is the foundation of all union protections including health and pension/retirement benefits.”
The lawsuit alleges that SAG and its leaders are attempting to merge “without conducting the necessary due diligence” while SAG has labeled the suit “a clear attempt at circumventing the will of the membership” and “a public relations stunt.”
Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, SAG’s deputy national exec director and general counsel, said Carlson’s declaration won’t carry any weight in the case. “The recent pleadings filed by the plaintiffs demonstrate, once again, that this case is completely without merit and we are confident that the judge will not interfere with the membership vote.”
First VP Ned Vaughn noted said he strongly disagrees with Carlson’s position.
“Since he helped defeat the last merger attempt in 2003, benefits have eroded year after year and members find it increasingly difficult to qualify as their contributions are split between two plans,” Vaughn said. “It is way past time to fix these problems and merger is undoubtedly the best approach. It increases our bargaining power, which is the key to the long-term health of our union and all the protections it can offer, including pension and health benefits. Unlike Bob Carlson, most members have taken the painful lesson of 2003 to heart and they’re going to opt for the strength of a merged union in 2012.”
Contact Dave McNary at firstname.lastname@example.org