Former CalPERS chief executive, board member sued by SEC

Posted April 23, 2012, at 8:41 p.m.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Federal securities regulators sued a former chief executive and a former director of the country’s largest public pension funds, accusing them of scheming to defraud an investment firm of more than $20 million in fees.

The Securities and Exchange Commission filed the lawsuit Monday against former CalPERS Chief Executive Federico Buenrostro Jr. and former CalPERS board member Alfred J.R. Villalobos, alleging that they fabricated documents provided to Apollo Global Management in New York.

The documents were the basis used by Villalobos and his companies, ARVCO Capital Research and ARVCO Financial Venturues of Zephyr Cove, Nev., to bill Apollo for placement fees.

Villalobos was paid the fees for helping Apollo win multibillion-dollar contracts to invest money on behalf of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System.

The alleged phony documents were patched together to comply with requests from Apollo lawyers that Villalobos provide them with proof that the fees had been approved by CalPERS investment staff.

“Buenrostro and Villalobos not only tricked Apollo into paying more than $20 million in placement agent fees it would not otherwise have paid, but also undermined procedures designed to ensure that investors like CalPERS have full disclosure of such fees,” said John M. McCoy III, associate regional director of the SEC’s Los Angeles office.

The complaint seeks restitution from Villalobos and Buenrostro as well as financial penalties.

The two defendants also are the target of a civil fraud suit brought by the California attorney general in Los Angeles Superior Court.

A federal criminal investigation also is pending.

MetLife agrees to $500M multistate settlement over death benefit claims

LOS ANGELES — Life insurance giant MetLife Inc. will shell out roughly $500 million in a multistate settlement of its alleged failure to pay death benefits to heirs, regulators said.

MetLife, however, said it will pay out about $438 million in the next 17 years, with $188 million going to beneficiaries this year. Insurance regulators from dozens of states had accused the company and others of delaying or withholding life insurance payments to many of its policyholders.

The funds will either be sent on to beneficiaries of deceased MetLife policyholders or stored in state coffers as unclaimed property. MetLife will also cover states’ costs of finding beneficiaries and sending them the benefits overdue to them.

MetLife failed to thoroughly use the Social Security Administration’s database of deceased individuals, known as the Death Master File, according to a joint investigative hearing held by State Controller John Chiang and California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones in May. In a coordinated effort, several other states held similar hearings.

Regulators concluded that when MetLife was aware of policyholders who died, it often didn’t make payments to beneficiaries. And in many cases when benefits went unclaimed after several years, Chiang’s office said MetLife did not forward on the funds to the state controller’s office as required by law.

The agreement will “make it clear that if the industry isn’t willing to make the payments legally required, we will take action, including lawsuits, to compel them to do right by their customers,” Chiang said in a statement.

Several other life insurance companies used similar practices, possibly to boost profits, regulators said. MetLife executives have denied dragging their feet on paying out benefits.

In a statement Monday, the company said it will institute several reforms.

The company said it paid out about $12 billion in life insurance claims last year, with 99 percent of claims submitted by beneficiaries. Policyholder deaths that don’t involve a claim are a “small proportion” of the total, MetLife said.

Last year, Chiang struck similar settlements with John Hancock Life Insurance Co. and Prudential Financial Inc. Those settlements, as well as Monday’s, include states such as Illinois, Florida, New Hampshire, North Dakota and Pennsylvania.

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