Fraud Charges Against Ex-Fire Chief Dismissed

Times Staff Writer

Theft and insurance fraud charges against former Hermosa Beach Fire Chief Ronald Simmons were dismissed last week on the recommendation of the district attorney's office, which said the former chief was acting on the advice of another official.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Herb Lapin said the official who gave the advice is under investigation, but he would not identify that person. Lapin said the investigation should be completed within a month. He said other city employees told investigators that they were advised by the same person to falsify insurance records.

Simmons also would not say last week who advised him to fill out city insurance forms improperly in 1984, but he said in past interviews that it was City Manager Gregory T. Meyer.

"I did exactly what (Meyer) told me to do," Simmons said early last year.

Meyer would neither confirm nor deny last week that he had given Simmons any advice about the insurance forms, although he has denied the allegations in the past. In a telephone interview on Thursday, he would only say: "I'm just not going to make any other comment. It just further inflames things."

Simmons, asked how it felt to be cleared of the charges, said outside the courtroom, "I'm totally furious. . . . How would you feel if a truck ran over you and you barely managed to survive?"

Simmons, 54, was fire chief from October, 1981, until July, 1985, when he resigned to take Hughes Aircraft Co. He was charged last September with two counts of grand theft and one count of insurance fraud for enrolling his wife improperly on the city's insurance policy.

Simmons, 54, applied for insurance coverage in July, 1984, listing his wedding date--July 28, 1979, according to city records. There was a problem processing the application because Simmons' wife, Barbara Myer, goes by her maiden name, Lapin said.

He said that Simmons showed city officials proof of his marriage and believed his wife was insured. He found out otherwise when his wife broke her ankle, which required surgery, in October, 1984, and the hospital told him she was not covered.

Simmons went to City Hall that day and said there was a problem with his insurance, "at which time he was advised, 'No problem. Just sign a new form and backdate it,' " Lapin said.

So Simmons signed a new form, backdated it about a month, and listed his wife as Barbara Simmons and their wedding date as Sept. 8, 1984. Under the city's policy, spouses could be added to the plan without question only within 30 days of marriage or during open-enrollment periods.

Lapin told Municipal Court Judge Candace D. Cooper, "What was done by Mr. Simmons was done at the direction of these people and done under duress. . . . We feel Mr. Simmons is as much a victim as the insurance company in this case." Cooper then dismissed the charges.

Although Simmons enrolled his wife improperly, he would not have been charged if he had told authorities his version of the story earlier, Lapin said. Simmons had been unwilling to talk to investigators, Lapin said.

Simmons' attorney, Robert E. Courtney, said Simmons, who is now self-employed, plans to sue the city and the official who gave him the bad advice. Simmons has agreed to reimburse the insurance company the $2,600 paid on his wife's medical expenses.

In an unrelated but similar case, an investigation of former Hermosa Beach Personnel Administrator Carolyn Smith's insurance forms is continuing, Lapin said.

Smith has said that James Brisson was her husband when he was enrolled on the city's policy from December, 1982, to August, 1985. Lapin said evidence suggests that she married Brisson after she resigned from the city in July, 1985, but investigators have not found a marriage license for the couple.

Ex-Mayor Inquiry Closed

Former Mayor Jack Wood had also been under investigation for improperly enrolling his girlfriend in the city's insurance program before they were married. That investigation, however, was closed without any charges being filed.

Wood acknowledged that he enrolled his girlfriend, Helena Toulmet, in the city's insurance program from November, 1984, to March, 1985, listing her last name as Toulmet-Wood and reporting a fictitious wedding date of Sept. 25, 1984. (They were married last May, Wood said.)

Wood did not make any claims against the policy, but he could have been charged with petty theft because he received reduced premiums for his girlfriend's coverage through the group policy, Lapin has said. (Unlike other city employees, elected officials must pay the premiums for dependents covered under city policies.)

Accepted Reimbursement

Such a charge was compromised, however, when the insurance company accepted reimbursement from Wood for the difference between group and individual rates, Lapin has said.

Wood had also said that he falsified the forms on the advice of a city official, but has refused to identify that person.

The district attorney's investigation was initiated after civic activist Roger Creighton sued the city to gain access to its insurance records and then filed a complaint with the district attorney's office regarding discrepancies he found in Simmons', Wood's and Smith's files.

City Councilman Tony DeBellis last week said he would suggest to Mayor John Cioffi that the investigation be discussed during a closed session of the City Council. The next closed session is scheduled for March 24.

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