Monday, October 31, 2016

No. 184: The SEC's Fraud Charges Against Torchia—An Update

On November 10, 2015, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed a 39-page, eight-count civil complaint against James A. Torchia, who is a Georgia resident, and five entities he controlled. The SEC alleged securities fraud, including operation of a Ponzi scheme. The two aspects of the case are the marketing of unregistered promissory notes arising from subprime automobile loans, and the marketing of unregistered interests in viatical and life settlements. In No. 128 (November 19, 2015), I reported on the case and offered readers a complimentary PDF containing the SEC complaint. (See SEC v. Torchia, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Georgia, Case No. 1:15-cv-3904.)

An Unsolicited Email
On October 3, 2016, I received out of the blue an email message from "Jim Torchia." The text of the email consisted of two sentences:
Read your article about the charges against me. You may want to get the real truth behind this action by the sec [sic].
I follow the practice of refraining from contact with litigants. Therefore I reported the email to Torchia's attorney and the SEC's lead attorney, and invited them to provide any information they might wish to share. I received no reply. However, I decided to prepare this update.

Early Developments
The case was assigned to U.S. District Judge William S. Duffey, Jr. President George W. Bush nominated him in November 2003, and the Senate confirmed him in June 2004.

When the SEC filed its complaint, it also filed an emergency motion for a temporary restraining order, an asset freeze, and the appointment of a receiver. On November 19 Judge Duffey ordered the SEC to file a motion for a preliminary injunction, and he ordered the parties to engage in expedited discovery. On December 1 the SEC filed a motion for a preliminary injunction, and the defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint. On December 15 the SEC opposed the motion to dismiss the complaint, and the defendants opposed the motion for a preliminary injunction. On December 18 the SEC responded to the defendants' opposition to the motion for a preliminary injunction. On January 7 and 8, 2016, Judge Duffey held a preliminary injunction hearing. On January 19 the parties filed a joint report and discovery plan.

Judge Duffey's Order
On April 25 Judge Duffey issued an 87-page opinion and order. He outlined the background of the case and his findings of fact. He described the defendants' businesses, the procedural history of the case, and the testimony at the preliminary injunction hearing. He denied the defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint. He granted the SEC's motion for a preliminary injunction, a freeze on the defendants' assets, and the appointment of a receiver. He appointed Al B. Hill of the Atlanta law firm of Taylor English Duma LLP as receiver.

Judge Duffey also ordered financial institutions and others to file statements describing assets they hold in the name of or for the benefit of the defendants. In response to that component of the order, many life insurance companies filed statements. Among them are Allstate Life, American General, American National, Athene Annuity & Life, Bankers Life & Casualty, Conseco Life, John Hancock, Liberty National, Lincoln National, Manufacturers Life, Massachusetts Mutual, Nationwide Life, Pacific Life, Primerica Life, Protective Life, ReliaStar Life, Transamerica, United of Omaha, USAA Life, and Voya Financial.

Some Other Developments
On May 9, 2016, the defendants filed an answer to the SEC complaint. Later in May the receiver filed several emergency motions relating to the handling of certain assets of the defendants, and Judge Duffey generally granted the motions. On July 15, the parties filed another joint preliminary report and discovery plan. On July 27, the receiver filed a status report. At this writing discovery is continuing, including a deposition by Torchia. A trial date has not been announced, but discovery is to be completed by December 30, 2016, with no further extensions.

General Observations
The details of the case, as described in Judge Duffey's April 25 order, are troubling. The allegations against the defendants and the judge's findings are very serious. Whether the case goes to trial remains to be seen. I plan to report further on the case.

Available Material
I am offering a complimentary 87-page PDF containing Judge Duffey's April 25 order. E-mail and ask for Judge Duffey's order in the case of SEC v. Torchia.


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

No. 183: The Surplus Note at Senior Health Insurance Company of Pennsylvania—Further Information and a Correction

Senior Health Insurance Company of Pennsylvania (SHIP) is a long-term care insurance company in runoff. On February 19, 2015, SHIP issued a $50 million five-year surplus note to Beechwood Re, a Cayman Islands-based reinsurance company. The interest rate is 6 percent. SHIP used the $50 million as an urgently needed surplus infusion. The infusion was shown in SHIP's December 31, 2014 financial statement, which was filed with the Pennsylvania insurance department on March 1, 2015. I wrote about the SHIP/Beechwood surplus note in Nos. 123 (10/27/15), 125 (11/6/15), 174 (8/11/16), 180 (9/19/16), and 182 (10/7/16). Here I provide further information and correct a statement I made in No. 182.

The Bizarre Nature of a Surplus Note
A surplus note is a bizarre financial instrument. The money received by the company issuing the note increases the company's surplus. That happens because state surplus note laws say the company issuing the note does not have to establish a liability. A surplus note is subordinate to all the company's obligations. A surplus note can be issued only with the prior approval of the insurance commissioner in the issuing company's state of domicile. Interest and principal payments on a surplus note can be made only with the prior approval of the commissioner.

The Unpaid Interest
In No. 182, I said SHIP missed three $1.5 million semiannual interest payments on the surplus note (in August 2015, February 2016, and August 2016) for a total of $4.5 million. A SHIP spokesman confirmed that the company has not made interest payments. I asked him whether SHIP asked the Pennsylvania commissioner for permission to pay interest and was denied permission, or whether SHIP did not ask for permission. He said SHIP did not ask for permission to pay interest.

In No. 182, I also said the failure to pay interest means the surplus note is in default. One of my readers said the failure to pay interest on a surplus note is not a default. His comment prompted me to look closely at the wording of SHIP's surplus note. I asked SHIP for a copy of the surplus note, but the spokesman said SHIP would not provide it.

Therefore I reviewed the offering circulars for surplus notes issued by several large mutual life insurance companies in the 1990s. Through the review, I learned that my reference to default was incorrect, and that my reader was correct. Here is some language in one of the circulars:
  • Each payment of interest on and the payment of principal of the Notes may be made only out of [the Company's] surplus and with the prior approval of the Insurance Commissioner of [the Company's state of domicile] if, in the judgment of the Commissioner, the financial condition of [the Company] warrants the making of such payments.
  • The Notes will constitute debt obligations of the type generally referred to as "surplus notes." The net proceeds of the issuance of the Notes will be recorded by [the Company] as additional admitted assets. For statutory accounting purposes, however, the Notes are not part of the legal liabilities of [the Company]. Accordingly, [the Company's] surplus will be increased by the net proceeds from the sale of the Notes.
  • Any such payment [of interest or principal] will reduce [the Company's] surplus.
  • If the Commissioner does not approve a payment of interest on or principal of the Notes, the applicable interest payment date or the maturity date, as the case may be, will be extended until such time, if any, as such approval is obtained. Interest will continue to accrue on any unpaid principal amount of the Notes (but not on unpaid interest the payment of which has not been approved) during the period of such extension.
  • The Notes will be expressly subordinate in right of payment to all existing and future Senior Indebtedness and Policy Claims of [the Company], including all future indebtedness issued, incurred or guaranteed by [the Company], other than any future surplus notes or similar obligations of [the Company].
  • To the extent authorized by [the Company's] Board of Directors, [the Company] may continue to declare policyholder dividends and to make dividend payments on its participating policies regardless of the effect any such declaration or payment may have on the Commissioner's decision regarding the payment of interest on or principal of the Notes. [Note: I believe that SHIP does not offer participating policies, but I included this point to help readers gain a further understanding of surplus notes.]
In short, if interest or principal payments are not made, the due dates of the payments would be extended indefinitely. Thus the party that purchases a surplus note would have no recourse if the company that issued the surplus note misses interest or principal payments.

The Invention of Surplus Notes
Surplus notes were invented more than a century ago as a vehicle through which a mutual insurance company in financial trouble can obtain a surplus infusion. A mutual company has no shareholders who can provide a surplus infusion. Also, a company cannot obtain a surplus infusion by borrowing the money through an ordinary loan, because the asset (cash) received would be offset by a liability and there would be no increase in surplus. The early state surplus note laws allowed only mutual companies to issue surplus notes, but the laws were later amended to allow stock companies to issue them.

The Income Tax Issue
A question arose concerning federal income taxation of the interest an insurance company pays on a surplus note. Insurance companies argued that the interest is deductible because it is interest on debt. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) argued that the interest is not deductible because it is in the nature of a dividend on stock. The insurance companies won the argument, but it made little difference at the time because surplus notes were issued only in small amounts by companies in financial trouble.

The Revolution of 1993
Then came the revolution of 1993, which I discussed in the February 1994 issue of The Insurance Forum. Prudential Insurance Company of America, a mutual company at the time, was not in financial trouble. Yet the company issued $300 million of surplus notes in a private offering. The company used the net proceeds to prefund a voluntary employee benefit association (VEBA) providing certain post-retirement benefits for certain employees. The company used surplus notes solely for one reason: the interest was deductible. Goldman, Sachs & Co., Prudential's adviser on the surplus note offering, put it succinctly: 62 percent of the contribution to the VEBA came from Prudential and the other 38 percent came from the IRS. The transaction also could be viewed as increasing our annual deficit, increasing our national debt, and burdening other taxpayers.

At the end of 1981, small life insurance companies in financial trouble had about $400 million of surplus notes outstanding. Prudential's 1993 action touched off an avalanche of surplus note offerings by major insurance companies that were not in financial trouble. By the end of 2012 (based on the final tabulation I published in the August 2013 issue of the Forum), life insurance companies had $28 billion of surplus notes outstanding, and property insurance companies had $14 billion outstanding.

For many years the only holdouts among major life insurance companies were Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company and Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America. When they succumbed to the temptation to issue surplus notes, I wrote about their actions in the August 2010 issue of the Forum.

The surplus note activity that began in 1993 stemmed from the deductibility of the interest paid on surplus notes. I think the IRS was correct. A surplus note is not a "debt obligation" (despite what offering circulars say), and the interest paid on a surplus note is not interest on debt. I think the interest is in the nature of a shareholder dividend, which is not deductible.

An Interesting Coincidence
In SHIP's annual statement for the year ended December 31, 2015, Schedule BA - Part 2 shows "other long-term invested assets acquired." The schedule says SHIP, on February 19, 2015, acquired an "other long-term invested asset" from "Beechwood Re Investments" for $50,168,039. SHIP made the acquisition on the very day SHIP issued the surplus note to Beechwood Re, and the cost of the acquisition was almost identical to the amount of the surplus note. In other words, on that day SHIP received a $50 million surplus infusion from Beechwood pursuant to the surplus note, and SHIP handed over about $50 million to Beechwood.

General Observations
In No. 182, I expressed the belief that the SHIP/Beechwood surplus note was not an arm's-length transaction, because an interest rate of 6 percent did not compensate Beechwood for the risk involved in lending money to SHIP, a company which was at the time and still is in fragile financial condition. I also expressed the belief that the $50 million surplus infusion was a gift from Beechwood in exchange for SHIP's investing money with Beechwood. The schedule in SHIP's 2015 statement supports my beliefs.

The "other long-term investments" schedule in SHIP's 2015 statement shows some SHIP investments in Platinum Partners, a hedge fund, near the end of 2015. The SHIP spokesman said SHIP was deceived, because in early 2015 Beechwood did not tell SHIP about Beechwood's close ties to Platinum, and because Beechwood transferred the invested funds to Platinum without SHIP's knowledge or consent. Those SHIP allegations resemble the allegations in CNO Financial Group's lawsuit against Platinum/Beechwood officials. I discussed the lawsuit in No. 182.

Available Material
I am offering a 15-page complimentary PDF consisting of excerpts from the February 1994, August 2010, and August 2013 issues of The Insurance Forum. Email and ask for the October 2016 surplus note package.


Friday, October 7, 2016

No. 182: Long-Term Care Insurance Liabilities Return to the Forefront at CNO Financial (Formerly Conseco)

On September 29, 2016, two developments brought long-term care insurance reserve liabilities back to the forefront at CNO Financial Group, Inc. (CNO), which formerly was Conseco, Inc. First, CNO filed an 8-K (significant event) report with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Second, two CNO subsidiaries, New York-domiciled Bankers Conseco Life Insurance Company and Indiana-domiciled Washington National Insurance Company, filed a federal court lawsuit (referred to here as "CNO's complaint") against three individuals associated with Beechwood Re, a Cayman Islands-based reinsurance company, and Platinum Partners, a New York-based hedge fund. On the same day, Reuters posted an article by reporter Lawrence Delevingne about CNO's 8-K report and CNO's complaint.

In No. 180 (posted September 19, 2016), I described how CNO (then Conseco) separated itself in 2008 from a financially troubled long-term care insurance subsidiary that was in runoff. With the approval of the Pennsylvania insurance commissioner, CNO transferred the subsidiary, Pennsylvania-domiciled Conseco Senior Health Insurance Company, to an independent trust and renamed it Senior Health Insurance Company of Pennsylvania (SHIP).

In the same post I explained how SHIP enhanced its surplus by borrowing money, through a surplus note, from Beechwood, which has close ties to Platinum. I indicated that SHIP invested a significant amount of assets in Platinum offerings, but was trying to divest itself of those investments. I also described SHIP's fragile financial condition, with total adjusted capital at the end of 2015 (including the surplus infusion from Beechwood) below company action level risk-based capital.

CNO's 8-K Report
Bankers Conseco Life and Washington National transferred their long-term care insurance reserve liabilities to Beechwood through reinsurance agreements that required Beechwood to maintain quality assets in trust to meet its obligations under those agreements. CNO's 8-K report explains how CNO and its regulators, through examinations, learned that Beechwood and Platinum were tied closely together, that Beechwood had invested its reinsurance trust assets in Platinum's offerings, that those offerings were not in compliance with state laws and regulations governing reinsurance trust assets, and that the transfers of liabilities from the CNO subsidiaries to Beechwood therefore were not valid.

The text of CNO's 8-K report describes the problems. The report also contains three exhibits: a regulatory demand letter from the New York Department of Financial Services to Bankers Conseco Life, a regulatory demand letter from the Indiana Department of Insurance to Washington National, and a CNO press release. The demand letters assert that the assets held in trust by Beechwood under the reinsurance agreements do not comply with state laws and regulations, and threaten disciplinary action unless the problems are resolved promptly.

CNO's Complaint
CNO's complaint describes the close ties between Beechwood and Platinum. It alleges, for example, that Beechwood officials are also Platinum officials. The defendants are Moshe Feuer, Scott Taylor, and David Levy. (See Bankers Conseco Life v. Feuer, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, Case No. 16-cv-7646.)

The complaint describes how the reinsurance agreements came about, and how the defendants allegedly misled the plaintiffs into entering into the agreements. The complaint mentions SHIP's investments in Platinum's offerings, but does not mention SHIP's surplus note relationship with Beechwood. I discuss that relationship below. The complaint lists 12 counts of alleged wrongdoing, including three counts of violations of the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act:
  1. Breach of Fiduciary Duty
  2. Aiding and Abetting a Breach of Fiduciary Duty
  3. Fraudulent Misrepresentation/Fraudulent Concealment
  4. Aiding and Abetting a Fraud
  5. Violation of RICO—18 U.S.C. §1962(c)
  6. Violation of RICO—18 U.S.C. §1962(a)
  7. RICO Conspiracy—18 U.S.C. §1962(d)
  8. Civil Conspiracy to Commit Fraud
  9. In the Alternative, Negligent Misrepresentation
  10. In the Alternative, Negligence
  11. In the Alternative, Gross Negligence
  12. In the Alternative, Unjust Enrichment
CNO's complaint was assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Edgardo Ramos, a 2011 Obama nominee. U.S. Magistrate Judge Barbara C. Moses was also assigned to the case.

The SHIP/Beechwood Surplus Note
A surplus note is a debt instrument that increases the surplus of the borrowing company because the company is not required to establish a liability for the amount borrowed. A surplus note is subordinate to the borrowing company's other obligations, and can be issued only with the insurance commissioner's prior approval. Also, interest and principal payments can be made only with the commissioner's prior approval.

On February 19, 2015, SHIP borrowed $50 million from Beechwood by issuing a five-year surplus note with the permission of the Pennsylvania insurance commissioner. The interest rate is 6 percent. The surplus infusion was reflected in SHIP's December 31, 2014 financial statement, which was filed March 1, 2015.

Questions for SHIP
After the September 29 developments described above, I wrote to Brian Wegner, president and chief executive officer of SHIP. I asked:
  1. Have you paid any interest on the surplus note? If your answer is yes, please indicate dates and amounts, and please send me the letter(s) you received from the Pennsylvania commissioner approving the payment(s). If your answer is no, please explain whether this means the surplus note is in default.

  2. Did Beechwood agree to lend you the $50 million in exchange for your investment in Platinum's offerings? If your answer is yes, please indicate the date on which you began investing in Platinum's offerings. If your answer is no, please explain what prompted you to borrow from Beechwood (rather than someone else) and what prompted you to invest in Platinum's offerings.
I asked for answers "on the record" and indicated a response date. I did not receive a response directly from SHIP. Instead I received a telephone call on behalf of SHIP from a media relations person in New York. He said he would try to obtain detailed answers to my questions by the response date, but he was not able to do so. I plan to prepare a follow-up post when and if SHIP provides detailed answers.

General Observations
As mentioned in No. 180, exhibits of "other long-term invested assets" in recent SHIP statements show that the company had significant investments in Platinum's offerings. On September 15, 2016, Reuters posted an article entitled "Long-term care insurer SHIP works to dump Platinum cargo." According to the article, SHIP, as of June 30, 2016, had at least $100 million of Platinum's offerings (3.6 percent of SHIP's assets). The article quoted SHIP's Brian Wegner as saying that "the company is in the process of reviewing and shedding all Platinum-related investments—now down to about $50 million—and would be done by the end of 2016," and that "SHIP has experienced no losses and fully anticipates that will be the case as the remainder is divested."

Normally interest on surplus notes is payable semiannually. With regard to the 6 percent surplus note through which SHIP borrowed $50 million from Beechwood to increase SHIP's surplus, I think SHIP has missed three semiannual interest payments of $1.5 million each, for a total of $4.5 million. Therefore, I think SHIP is in default on the surplus note. However, I am not aware of any action taken against SHIP by Beechwood or by the Pennsylvania insurance commissioner.

I think the SHIP/Beechwood surplus note was not an arm's-length transaction, because an interest rate of 6 percent does not compensate Beechwood for the risk involved in lending money to SHIP, which was in fragile financial condition at the time of the loan, and still is. I believe that the $50 million was a gift from Beechwood to SHIP in exchange for SHIP making investments in Platinum's offerings.

Available Material
I am offering a 71-page complimentary PDF consisting of CNO's 14-page 8-K report (including the three exhibits) and CNO's 57-page complaint against three individuals associated with Beechwood and Platinum. Email and ask for the October 2016 CNO/Beechwood package.