Born out of the most destructive storm in Florida’s history, Citizens Property Insurance was created to protect homes private companies deemed too risky.
Two decades after Hurricane Andrew, Citizens has become the largest insurance company in the state; taking on more risk than it can afford. And now, reports of fraud, misconduct and wasteful spending are pushing the company to a new low.
“This company is not perfect. We have made mistakes. There is no question about it,” said Citizens Chairman Carlos Lacasa.
The Citizen Board of Governors met Tuesday in Tallahassee to discuss the recent string of bad publicity, but spent most of their time blaming the media.
“We will win back the credibility of this company in the eyes of the public, but I call upon the press to help us do that by reporting on us responsibly and accurately and to give us a little leeway,” said Carlos.
Last week Governor Rick Scott ordered an investigation into the company’s decision to dismantle its Office of Corporate Integrity. The firings came as the four member review team was investigating 42 cases of employee fraud and misconduct.
And some of those allegations include reports of a female employee dancing topless on a bar after a company event in Tampa and giant severance packages for employees who left Citizens in disgrace.
Citizens President Barry Gilway says the topless dancing employee has been dealt with, but most of the other allegations are either unfounded or overblown. “A complete and thorough investigation showed that the anonymous allegations did not stand up to the test of proven facts and evidence.”
Gilway says firing the internal investigators was not a retaliatory attack. He says the employees were making factual errors and using their positions to air personal grievances.
Policyholders of Florida, a consumer group often critical of Citizens, released this statement following Tuesday’s board meeting.
“Instead of spending time talking about fixing abuses of the public trust, the board seems more interested in blaming the media for finding out about it. Citizens says the media is disgusting, but I assure you, policyholders and taxpayers have even more choice words about the management of Citizens."
We also caught up with the group’s spokesman Kevin Cate. “Citizens was upset that they got caught with misdeeds, with shards going on, some topless dancing on bars and they didn’t want to look bad so they wanted to blame the media from reporting it.”
Integrity Florida has also been critical of Citizens in recent weeks. The group’s president Dan Krassner says he’s pleased the board is addressing the issue, but is anxious to see what the governor’s investigation finds.