Friday, September 16, 2005

Citizens Exec Resigns Amid Corruption Allegations

Yesterday, reporters Joni James and Jeff Harrington of the redoubtable St. Petersburg Times broke the story that the Chief Operating Officer for Citizens Property Insurance, R. Paul Hulsebusch, resigned "abruptly" late last week amid corruption charges raised two days earlier in a Texas civil lawsuit.

Hulsebasch resigned on Friday, September 9, it was reported, after allegations surfaced in a Harris County, Texas, civil lawsuit that "he had accepted at least $25,000 in goods as a bribe from a competing adjuster that ended up winning a lucrative contract with Citizens." The suit had been filed earlier this year by Universal Risk Insurance Services of Houston after Citizens Property Insurance allegedly awarded competitor Quantum Claims Services a lucrative contract to adjust hurricane wind insurance claims.

It is alleged the contract was awarded after "Hulsebusch accepted at least $25,000 in goods as a bribe ... ."

The state-owned Citizens Property Insurance Co. hired Hulsebusch in the midst of the four hurricanes that rocked the state last year. Among his earlier duties was overseeing the initial set-up of Disaster Recovery operations for Hurricane Ivan in the Florida Panhandle.

Earlier this year, Citizens promoted Hulsebusch to Chief Operating Officer for the entire Florida company. In that capacity, he would have headed all of the state-owned insurer's operations. He was paid $150,000 a year.

Hulsebusch also is believed to be among those who played a key role in lobbying the 2005 state legislature to change Florida's value policy law.

Florida Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher told the Times that the plaintiff in the Texas case, Quamtum, turned over to him last week documents that "include a receipt indicating that Hulsebusch's motorcycle was purchased by Quantum." Neither Gallagher nor Citizens Property has explained why it took a full week for the information to become public or why it first surfaced in the St. Petersburg Times.

In addition to the motorcycle allegation, it is now being claimed that Hulsebusch also failed to disclose he previously sold a business to the owner of the Quantum for $200,000 and Hulsebusch still holds "a note for $100,000," according to the newspaper.

Gallagher told the Times that Hulsebusch failed to disclose the previous business deal before being hired. "He might not have been hired if he had," the state CFO says now with perfect hindsight.

According to the Times, Hulesbusch was hired by the executive director of Citizens Property Insurance, Bob Ricker. Ricker is the author of an odious self-defense of Citizens' much-reviled claims adjustment policies which was written earlier this year. Local attorney Robert Heath later convincingly refuted Ricker's article as "not only hypocritical but untrue."

The Times reports Ricker has released a statement claiming Citizens intends to investigate the allegations itself "and at the conclusion of this investigation, all necessary steps will be taken to ensure that all Citizens employees maintain the highest level of professionalism."

In connection with the Texas lawsuit, the Times reports that Universal Risk's attorney, Scott Rothenberg, claims his client company already --
"had deployed adjusters in Florida when Hulsebusch approached Universal asking for a kickback of 3 percent of the adjustment fees.

"The request was made and it was refused," Rothenberg said. "All of a sudden virtually every claim Universal was adjusting was reassigned."
More details are available in today's St. Petersburg Times.

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