Scrappy insurer continues pursuit of $25M judgment from Symons family

Greg AndrewsIndianapolis businessman Alan Symons is trying to retire and get his financial house in order. But it’s tough when you have a pesky, $25 million court judgment hanging over your head.

One of Indiana’s longest-running court battles appears to be finally coming to a head, with the Chicago-based insurer Continental Casualty Co.—which won a massive judgment against Symons and his family way back in 2009—seeking to scrape together as much of the money as possible by launching garnishment proceedings.

Magistrate Judge Mark Dinsmore got the ball rolling in May when he ordered more than 30 individuals, companies and financial institutions that have had ties to Symons to either respond to interrogatories by June 30 or appear in court July 6.

Symons, 70, once a big wheel in the Indianapolis business community who was president of the Columbia Club and was honored as an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year, tried to put the brakes on those proceedings while he attempted to settle with Continental. But Dinsmore this month shot down his request.

In seeking the delay, Michael Alerding of Alerding Caster Hewitt LLP argued: “Symons does not have the assets to satisfy what remains of the judgment … he is nearing retirement, and would very much like to propose something greater than what he has.”

Alerding added that Symons “may be able to borrow from third parties in order to pay CCC and negotiate a resolution. Symons believes that if he is permitted a short amount of time to seek additional resources via loans or other means to negotiate an amount to attempt to settle that it would be in the parties’ best interests.”

The eye-popping judgment, originally $34 million but paid down to $25 million in recent years, stems from a legal brawl between Continental and the Canadian-born Symons that started way back in 2001—three years after one of his Indianapolis-based insurance companies bought two lines of crop insurance from Continental. The deal included terms under which the two entities would share profits from the combined businesses.

But Symons’ insurance empire, which included Symons International Group and Goran Capital Inc., soon began to teeter. That prompted Continental Casualty to exercise its right to receive full payment from the sale of the two insurance lines, but the Symons subsidiary on the hook, IGF Insurance, was unable to deliver.

That’s despite the fact that Symons sold IGF’s crop insurance lines for $40 million in May 2001. While that should have replenished IGF’s coffers, $9 million instead went to Symons’ remaining businesses to fund unusual non-compete and retention agreements, court records show.

Continental charged the Symons family used those other businesses as a personal piggy bank, collecting millions of dollars in salary and millions more in the form of interest-free loans that were never repaid and thus amounted to tax-free compensation. The suit charged breach of contract and fraudulent conveyance—illegal transfers of assets that hinder creditors.

Judge Richard Young slapped Symons and his family with the judgment on the grounds that they were “the recipients of improper post-transaction benefits” that left Continental shortchanged. The judge also found the Symonses misrepresented their companies’ financial condition to regulatory authorities and comingled assets of the various businesses.

The case has taken so long to play out in part because of a series of appeals. Another factor, according to Continental, is that Symons family members were less than forthcoming as the insurer tried to get to the bottom of what assets they had available to apply toward the judgment.

Two years ago, it accused Alan Symons of “hide-the-ball” conduct. And last year, Young found Alan Symons’ brother Robert in contempt of court and ordered his arrest after Continental charged he “blatantly ignores the multiple orders of this court and continues to hide any and all meaningful evidence of the financial transactions of G. Gordon Symons,” his deceased father, who oversaw the family’s insurance empire.

Through it all, Continental and its New Jersey-based legal team have been unrelenting. In its latest filing, the company said it would be happy to talk settlement with Alan Symons—“provided that it does not delay” garnishment proceedings. In short, Continental is tired of waiting for its money.•

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