Posted: Wed., Jan. 4, 2012, 6:33pm PT

SAG Plans’ Dow takes leave of absence

Dowdell to handle day-to-day ops in interim

By Dave McNary

Bruce Dow, the longtime chief executive of the Screen Actors Guild Producers Pension and Health Plans, has taken a 60-day medical leave of absence.

Dow confirmed the leave to Variety on Wednesday, noting that he initiated the request for a leave to deal with what he termed a “chronic healthcare problem.” The exec said he intends to return to his post.

While Dow is absent, day-to-day operations will be assumed by the pension plans’ chief operating officer Christopher Dowdell.

The move by Dow comes two weeks after an investigation into allegations of misconduct and financial problems at the plans were determined to be mostly baseless. In a letter to plan participants dated Dec. 22, the plan trustees — SAG and industry reps — said that “an extensive and independent investigation” found no validity to the allegations by fired plan exec Craig E. Simmons.

“Based on the results of the investigation, we can assure you that the fiscal integrity of the SAG-PPHP remains sound and your benefits are secure,” the letter said. “In plain English, your pension plan is safe; your health plan is safe.”

Simmons filed a complaint with the federal government asserting he was terminated for acting as a whistleblower about alleged embezzlement at the fund. The board of trustees of the plans, operated separately from SAG, denied the allegations in September and retained outside counsel to review the matter.

Simmons alleged in a complaint filed with the U.S. Labor Dept. that he was fired in March by Dow due to Simmons’ refusal to mislead board trustees and government investigators about embezzlement by the plans’ former chief information officer, Nader Karimi. Simmons also alleged in the complaint that Dow and other execs had misused funds for personal benefit.

“The independent investigator found that most of Mr. Simmons’ allegations are false, including his claims that Mr. Dow is antigay, that he caused the plans to improperly reimburse health expenses for his wife, that he caused plan employees to work on his home and perform personal chores for him, that he promoted employees who were unqualified and that he instructed staff to mislead U.S. Dept. of Labor auditors. These findings presented by the independent investigator were reviewed by PricewaterhouseCoopers’ forensic auditors.”

The trustees also addressed embezzlement of $2 million that was discovered three years ago and said they were evaluating whether remedial actions are required.

The SAG health plan covers about 40,000 participants and has assets of more than $2 billion, while the retirement plan pays pensions to an estimated 9,000 beneficiaries.

Contact Dave McNary at dave.mcnary@variety.com