Union Fund Trustees Settle Members’ Suits for $16 Million

Members of three unions settled lawsuits against their pension fund trustees Mar. 7 in a case involving allegations of pension fraud by Capital Consultants LLC, a Portland, Or., fund management firm. Members of two more unions plan to settle suits against their trustees by mid-Mar. The total recovery of all five actions is $16 million.

Capital Consultants had $927 million under its management when federal agents seized its assets in Sept. 2000. Funds from Taft-Hartley plans and other union plans accounted for $407 million of the high-risk private investments, many of which may now be nearly worthless. The Dep’t of Labor estimates that the union funds lost more than $100 million due to risky investments.

Since the firm went into receivership, many suits have been filed seeking to recoup the losses. The civil lawsuits fall into three basic categories: those filed by federal regulators against Capital Consultants, those filed by the union pension funds against Capital Consultants and their legal and financial advisers, and those filled by union members against their own pension fund trustees. Criminal charges also have been filed against Capital Consultants’s managers and an ex-boss of the Laborers’ Int’l Union of N. Am.

The suits against the fund trustees allege breach of fiduciary duty, said Dan Feinberg, an Oakland, Cal., attorney representing members of three unions. The three unions are the Oregon Laborers Union, Idaho Laborers Union, and Office & Prof’l Employees Int’l Union Local 11 based in Portland. All the settlements are funded by the funds’ fiduciary liability policies and not by individual trustees. None of the settlements admits any liability on the part of the trustees.

The settlements with the two Laborers’ unions were filed Mar. 7 with the U.S. Dist. Court for the Dist. of Oregon. A similar settlement for members of Local 11 will be filed by mid-Mar., Feinberg said.  Feinberg said that the settlements call for a payment of $ 4 million to the trust funds administered by the Oregon Laborers Union, which lost an estimated $40 million in investments. The Idaho Laborers Union, which had a loss of $10 million, will receive $1.9 million, and Local 11, which had a loss of $10 million, will receive just under $1 million.

Another settlement was reached Mar.7 in the same federal court with members of plans administered by Portland-based Local 290 of the United Ass’n of Plumbers & Pipe Fitters. It calls for a payment of $3.7 million. The fund has $29 million at risk due to the investment losses at Capital Consultants, said Chrys Martin, a Portland attorney representing Local 290’s members.

Finally , by mid-March, members of the Eighth Dist. of the Int’l Bhd. of Elec. Workers are scheduled to settle a suit against trustees of their trust funds, said Seattle attorney Richard Birmingham who is representing the members. The Eighth District includes Idaho, Utah, and Colorado. That settlement is expected to be for about $6 million. The trust has $50 million at risk due to investment losses at Capital Consultants.

Union trusts that have lost money through their investments with Capital Consultants are expected to recoup more of their losses in the months ahead in addition to the payments from the suits against the fund trustees. Negotiations initiated by the trusts appear to have resulted in a tentative settlement with some of the defendants, but the details of the settlement have yet to be approved by the court or made public. Also, the receiver has been liquidating some of the assets held by Capital Consultants, and proceeds from such sales will be going to trusts and other investors. [BNA 3/11/02]