Stung by criticism after the San Bruno disaster, utility commissioners Michael Peevey (left) and Timothy Alan Simon (right) consoled themselves with utility industry–funded overseas travel.
On September 9, 2010, a Pacific Gas & Electric natural gas pipeline exploded in San Bruno. Eight people were killed and 38 homes destroyed. Early last year, Bay Area assemblyman Jerry Hill told the California Public Utilities Commission that its lax regulation was greatly responsible.
Michael Peevey, president of the commission, indignantly huffed that a panel had been named to study the tragedy, so the assemblyman’s remark was “contemptible.”
Intoned Timothy Alan Simon, a commissioner, “I find it personally offensive for the member of the legislature to come before this body and try to even imply or indicate the slightest scintilla that we have been complacent in this area.”
Peevey had shown some humility right after the disaster, but in mid-2011, after the panel came out with the study lashing the utility for its incompetence and the commission for its weak-kneed regulation, Peevey gulped down a big helping of humble pie. He pledged that the commission would improve enforcement. Then, that year, he took four overseas trips paid for by utilities — to the United Kingdom, Sweden, Italy, and Australia. Simon went along on the Sweden and Italy junkets. His fiancée, San Francisco port commissioner Kimberly Brandon, went on the Sweden trip. Assemblyman Hill said the trips were shameful.
The California Public Utilities Commission continues to be marked by arrogance, ineptitude, bureaucratic sclerosis, pro-utility and anti-consumer bias, blindness to conflicts of interest, and the publishing of misleading information about its commissioners. The utilities the commission regulates are just as…well…contemptible. Pacific Gas & Electric wants its customers to pick up a significant part of the tab for future improvements in its pipelines. This smacks of San Diego Gas & Electric’s outrageous attempt to get its customers to pay for uninsured costs of the 2007 wildfires, for which the utility was found negligent. And the local utility wants customers to indemnify it against costs of future fires.
So what is the commission doing? The administrative law judge handling San Diego Gas & Electric’s attempt to fleece its customers is Maribeth Bushey, a former lawyer for — you guessed it — San Diego Gas & Electric. In 1993, her husband, then an inventor for a company 80 percent owned by SDG&E, owed the utility $110,000.
The commissioner handling the wildfire case is Timothy Alan Simon, who was appointed five years ago amid controversy. Simon’s biography on the commission website says he is “a former securities and banking industry attorney” who serves on several nonprofit boards, particularly ones tied to the Roman Catholic Church, and “is engaged and is the proud father of three children.”
But documents from other sources raise many questions about that Simon biography. Unfortunately, he did not respond to a request for information. He is a son of the legendary Joseph “Bunny” Simon, who owned eight nightclubs in San Francisco. One, the Play Pen, was adjacent to the first campaign headquarters of political powerhouse Willie Brown, who later recommended Bunny’s son for the commission post.
In his younger years, Timothy Alan Simon used the name Sultan Muhammad Al-Nasser, according to a report by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the nongovernmental securities regulator known as FINRA. He and his wife, Kamilah Al-Nasser, had three children: Suphia, Nahel, and Jamal. The marriage ended in divorce. On September 24, 2002, he filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy “due to financial conditions imposed by dissolution of marriage,” he reported on his FINRA form. Alameda County records show that Timothy Alan Simon was hit by numerous liens and notices of default in the 1990s and early 2000s. The Los Angeles Times said in a 2007 story that in 2006, while Simon was appointments secretary for Governor Schwarzenegger, a judge ordered the state to deduct $1795 per month from Simon’s salary as part of a plan to repay his debts. Initially, he defaulted on that plan. I couldn’t reach Simon’s ex-wife for comment.
Simon’s background as a securities industry attorney is hardly impressive. He graduated from the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law in 1982 but didn’t pass the California bar until 1997. He did get a law license in Oklahoma in 1990 and practiced there. He was suspended for three months that year for failure to comply with mandatory education requirements, according to FINRA records. He was suspended again in 1998, according to Oklahoma bar records, but was preparing to quit that bar, which he did the next year.
In 1989, Simon passed his Series 7 examination — the one taken by stockbrokers-to-be. In 2002, he passed examinations for a securities sales supervisor and for a compliance officer. (A brokerage’s compliance officer makes sure the firm is following industry rules.) From 2002 to 2005, he worked for a San Francisco firm called PreferredTrade. During that period, the brokerage got fined and censured by exchanges for not submitting accurate trading information; failing to have appropriate supervision procedures; failing to fund reserve accounts for customers; not adhering to good business principles; and the like, according to the regulatory authority’s records. The firm was sold in 2005.
In 2005 and 2006, Simon worked for Global Crown Capital in San Francisco, which is now out of business. In 2005, two customers charged one of its major owners, Rani T. Jarkas, with churning their accounts, putting them in unsuitable investments, and committing fraud and elder abuse. An arbitration panel found that Global Crown and Jarkas were liable to pay $512,000 to their accusers. Over the years, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority charged the firm with several violations. In 2009, Global Crown dropped its securities registration, owing $1.7 million to customers. That year, Global asserted, “The members of the San Francisco FINRA office have, and are, pursuing a vendetta against Global Crown Capital based on race and nationality discrimination.… The firm believes the San Francisco office is corrupt and intends to pursue legal action against the members of that office.”
FINRA has no comment on the charge and doesn’t know of any lawsuit.