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Insurance probe widens; Marsh suspends 4

Calif. regulator expects lengthy investigation

SACRAMENTO -- California's top insurance regulator said yesterday that he will file a civil suit shortly in the widening scandal over insurance industry sales practices.

California Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi also said he expects the investigation to widen beyond the property and casualty lines, which were targeted in a suit filed last week by New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer alleging price fixing and bid rigging. These could include life and health policies as well as auto and home insurance.

''As we moved forward with that, we have discovered problems in other areas," he said.

''This department, the New York [insurance] department, the attorney general in New York, and insurance commissioners across the nation are pursuing many different paths," Garamendi said.

''We have opened the first couple of pages in a very long and sordid book. The early indication is it's an extremely serious breach of trust . . . by some of the largest and most well-known insurance companies and brokers in America."

Garamendi did not give the names of companies he expected might be involved, but said ''I would expect to see virtually every line of insurance investigated." He also said he believed consumers and businesses should be reimbursed if investigations prove they were victims of bid rigging or other illegal activity.

Garamendi said he was working with Spitzer in developing his case. He also said a number of state insurance commissioners took part in a conference call yesterday morning to ''coordinate investigation activities."

Spitzer last Thursday filed a civil suit, accusing the Marsh & McLennan Cos. brokerage of bid rigging and using incentive fees to manipulate the sales of corporate property and casualty policies. As a result, businesses have paid more than necessary for their coverage.

Spitzer pledged to look at other forms of insurance, too.

Marsh & McLennan has suspended four workers whose names have been connected with Spitzer's lawsuit, The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday.

A company spokesman declined to comment on the report.

Meanwhile, an increasing number of insurance companies have reported receiving subpoenas from Spitzer's office.

Boston-based Liberty Mutual Insurance Co., one of the nation's top property and casualty insurers, said yesterday it has been subpoenaed as part of Spitzer's investigation.

Dutch-based ING Groep NV, one of the world's largest insurers, said it had received a subpoena from Spitzer's office.

Some insurance company shares continued to suffer on Wall Street.

Marsh & McLennan shares, which have fallen more than 45 percent since Spitzer's suit was filed, closed higher yesterday.

The shares in companies named by Spitzer in connection with the March & McLennan suit were mixed on the New York Stock Exchange. American International Group fell 10 cents to $57.60; ACE Ltd. was up 85 cents at $34; and Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. rose $1.32 to $54.61.

US-listed shares of ING were off 36 cents at $25.49 on the NYSE.

In addition to New York and California, other states have launched their own investigations.

Marsh & McLennan reportedly suspended William Gilman, executive director of marketing at Marsh Global Broking and a managing director; Greg Doherty, a senior vice president in the group's excess casualty division; Edward McNenney, a brokerage executive; and Gilman's daughter, Samantha Gilman, The Wall Street Journal said.

The paper said Spitzer's office was looking into their roles in pressuring insurance companies to offer fake bids for insurance policies.

Two employees from AIG and one from ACE already have entered guilty pleas in the case.

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