Officials at SEPTA, the Philadelphia Parking Authority and the city of Pittsburgh confirmed yesterday that the U.S. Attorney's Office (in Philadelphia) has asked for records of any business dealings with West Insurance, a minority-owned insurance agency headquartered on South Broad Street, or with Watlington & Cooper, another minority-owned agency bought by West in 2000.
West Insurance has been involved placing coverage for SEPTA, the Parking Authority, the city and other public agencies, earning commissions running into hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Its officers and employees - especially the company's founder, Bernard T. West and his son, Kobie West, the chief executive officer - also have been significant political donors. They gave at least $18,000 to Ed Rendell's campaign for governor in 2002 and $9,750 to Mayor Street in 2000 and 2002, along with smaller amounts to various state legislators, according to state records.
Besides naming the Wests, the federal subpoenas asked for documents dealing with several other individuals or firms with ties to the West agency, including John Hegarty, Mike Jones, Fareed Ahmad, Stephen Bradley, Urban Underwriters Insurance and the Chapman Insurance Agency.
SEPTA told the Daily News it has paid $358,573 to the West firm since 2001. It's one of three insurance agencies who sit on SEPTA's "risk-management advisory committee," finding insurance companies to cover SEPTA's risks and then
splitting commissions from the insurance companies.
One slot on the committee is reserved for a minority-owned insurance agency, according to SEPTA's assistant general manager for public and operational safety, James B. Jordan.
When SEPTA's board last picked committee members in 2000, Watlington & Cooper was the only minority firm to apply, and West took over the work when it bought Watlington, Jordan said.
The two other positions are held by AON Risk Services, a national firm, and the Selzer Co. of Warrington, Bucks County, a major regional firm led by Ronald J. Selzer, a significant contributor to Republican causes.
Jordan said SEPTA's insurance commissions are normally split among AON, Selzer and West on a 40-40-20 basis, recognizing that the West agency plays a much smaller role than the two others shopping SEPTA's insurance work among
national and international insurers.
But the West agency has worked hard at other assignments, Jordan said, including a current project looking at risks associated with SEPTA's leases and surveys last year on how transit agencies are dealing with terrorism and
director-liability issues. Daily News
There's no word on whether or not SEPTA did anything improper in dealing with West.
From Sunday's Inquirer:
At SEPTA, West Insurance is the minority representative on a three-member team that selects insurance companies. Since 2001, it has earned more than $500,000 in commissions.
Aon Corp., a member of the team and one of the nation's largest insurance brokerages, handles the major work. West Insurance, a smaller firm, gets 15 percent to 20 percent of the commissions.
The third company on the SEPTA team is Selzer Co., of Bucks County. Its president, Ronald J. Selzer, did not return calls left at his office. In the past, he has praised the work of West Insurance.
Selzer, which brokers insurance for several government entities in Bucks County, also works with West Insurance at the Convention Center.