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SAG Pension-Health Plans Topper to Retire (EXCLUSIVE)

Dowdell leaving at the end of January

Christopher Dowdell, CEO of the SAG Producers Pension and Health Plans, has announced plans to retire at the end of January.

A spokeswoman for the plans said the board of trustees are in the “final stages” of a search for a new CEO and that  Dowdell has agreed to stay on as interim CEO until the search is completed and the transition to a new CEO is complete.

Lesleigh Egan, the plans’ executive director of administration and facilities, is also retiring on Jan. 1.

The plans — which are jointly administered by trustees repping performers and the industry — have faced increased scrutiny in recent years due to the SAG-AFTRA merger and a pair of lawsuits filed by a dismissed executive.

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. The SAG-AFTRA merger, completed in March 2012, was been touted by merger backers as a first step toward merging the SAG and AFTRA health and pension plans but those efforts have yet to gain traction.

Eligibility for both the SAG and AFTRA plans is based on meeting earnings thresholds over a four-quarter period so merging the plans was heralded as a solution to the problem of performers falling short of the thresholds when their contributions were going to two different plans.

Dowdell replaced Bruce Dow, longtime chief exec of the plans, in April, 2012. Dow was at the center of allegations made by Craig Simmons, former exec director of human resources, in a 2012 wrongful termination suit against the plans.

Simmons had filed a complaint with the federal government in 2011, asserting he was terminated for acting as a whistleblower about alleged embezzlement at the fund. The board of trustee denied the allegations.

Simmons alleged in the suit — and in the complaint filed with the U.S. Labor Dept. — that he was fired in March 2011 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 that Dow and other execs had misused funds for personal benefit.

The suit has gone to arbitration with a trial scheduled for April. As part of disovery, depositions have been taken of Dow and two execs, Amanda Bernard and Melissa Deeton.

Simmons filed a second suit against the plans a year ago, alleging defamation and invasion of privacy against him in a letter sent to SAG members in December, 2011. Because of the existence of an arbitration agreement, all issues in the suits were consolidated into a single arbitration.

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