(Recasts, adds comment from Acordia)
NEW YORK, Dec 19 (Reuters) - Attorneys general for three U.S. states said on Tuesday they had filed suit against an insurance broker unit of Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC.N) for allegedly receiving payments to steer clients to insurers.
The company, Acordia, received about $200 million in undisclosed payments known as contingent commissions from 2000 through 2005, the Connecticut attorney general’s office said.
Connecticut, New York and Illinois are seeking restitution, penalties, and a change in the way Acordia does business.
“This lawsuit brings us closer to ending the insurance industry’s hidden pay-to-play game,” Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said in a statement.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said the commissions raised insurance prices.
Insurance brokers link up companies looking for coverage with insurers willing to provide it.
Companies seeking insurance pay the broker, but brokers can also receive contingent commissions from insurers for sending business their way.
A spokeswoman for Wells Fargo said Acordia intends to defend itself vigorously.
“Contingent commissions have been a longstanding and well-established practice in the insurance industry,” she said.
Acordia said in a statement that it properly disclosed all contingent compensation agreements.
Critics of contingent commissions say they amount to kickbacks, and prosecutors have been trying for several years to end the practice.
In 2004, New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer began suing insurance brokers for receiving the commissions, starting with Marsh & McLennan Cos. (MMC.N)
Acordia allegedly signed secret agreements with units of Atlantic Mutual, Chubb Corp. (CB.N) Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. (HIG.N), St. Paul Travelers Cos., STA.N and Royal & SunAlliance, (RSA.L) the Connecticut attorney general said.
Acordia is the fifth-largest insurance broker in the world, according to its Web site.