What Gulf Coast Congressman Gene Taylor wanted the Easter Bunny to bring him.
South Mississippi Living 4/07

Thursday, June 21, 2007

State Farm, Partners, and RICO:
What a Racket!

State Farm, Partners, RICO: What a Racket!
[At end of this piece are additional resources on the RICO case including a video of the press conference annoucing this historical lawsuit.]

I’m not talking tennis either. The whirlwind of news swirling about is almost dizzying. Shortly after Katrina hit the Mississippi Gulf Coast and breached the New Orleans’ levees, rumors floated around implying that the insurance companies would rig their claims process to wiggle out of paying what was owed to Paula and Peter Policyholders.

I thought to myself how criminal and cruel, heartless and calculating the people running a corporation would have to be to actually pull off something like this.

I envisioned a set of companies passing back and forth among themselves responsibility for the Katrina claims. I had thought this would be a way to shift its costs to other companies depending on which of them had the flood insurance policies. I was unaware that the private insurance corporations had bailed out of the flood insurance business some forty years ago.

I didn’t realize that our U.S. Government was taking care of what the private market neglected. When corporations failed to fill the market needs of American families and business owners, the federal government stepped in. Indeed, a lesson in the absurdity of arguing in favor of straight up laissez faire economics.

What I had envisioned was in the right direction of what occurred. I just didn’t realize that the US taxpayers would get stuck with the private corporations’ bill.

Courageous Whistleblowers Step Forward
Thankfully, two courageous women—Cori and Kerri Rigsby—blew the whistle on what has turned out to be a scenario worse than imagined. These very brave Rigsby sisters came forward with evidence that allegedly proves that State Farm defrauded policyholders by manipulating engineers' reports so that claims could be denied.

Photo of Cori and Kerri Rigsby

ABC News was able to obtain a copy from State Farm files of the original FAEC damage report, which included the image of an attached "Post-it" note that read, "Put in wind file - do not pay bill - do not discuss"
Below is a post it note on a file that appears to embody the essence of the allegations.

Cori and Kerri Rigsby turned to attorney Richard Scruggs to represent them. A few years back, Scruggs had won his fight against Big Tobacco costing the cigarette industry a “$246 billion settlement to help states defray Medicaid costs for smoking-related illnesses.”

The sisters say they ultimately printed out and copied roughly 15,000 pages of claims records. In addition to providing the material to Scruggs, they say they gave copies to Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood and U.S. Attorney Dunn Lampton's offices on June 5, the same day they told a supervisor they were cooperating with Scruggs. For eight years, Cori and Kerri Rigby had managed State Farm claims adjuster teams.
Of course, State Farm is doing everything it can to suppress the use of this information in any legal proceeding. Doesn’t this sound just like they took a page straight out of the playbook for their Republican buddies in the White House?

Remember how the Administration went ballistic when we learned that someone in Bush’s employ had leaked the identity of CIA undercover operative? The White House wasn’t upset that someone had betrayed the country and put at risk Valerie Plame’s life and all those with whom she was associated as well as compromised her work on weapons of mass destruction. No ma’am. Bush and his team were upset that they had been caught. Well, this is the same game State Farm seems to be playing.

On Wednesday, June 20,2007, the Scruggs Katrina Group filed a federal lawsuit against State Farm and its corporate partners alleging the corporations were violating the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization Act, which most of us have heard of as RICO. State Farm worked with “Forensic Analysis & Engineering Corp. of Raleigh, N.C., and E.A. Renfroe Co. Inc. of Hoover, Ala. Forensic's engineers inspected homes for State Farm, while Renfroe helped the company adjust claims.”

The Scruggs Katrina Group characterized the complaint as "a story of how State Farm and its web of surrogate companies conspired to deny claims that should be paid by State Farm and to shift liability to the federal-funded flood insurance program. Actions taken by State Farm and conspirators included:
  • threatening experts who disagreed with their desired result
  • concealing information that would work in the policyholder's favor destroying or falsifying reports
  • placing pressure on engineers to use scientifically inaccurate and deceptive language
  • firing engineers who refused to be corrupted inventing a new policy to exclude all hurricane damage
  • using their strength and size to intimidate policyholders in the mediation process

My God alive! Racketeering charges against an insurance company that is known for its jingle claiming “just like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.”

“I've never seen a smoking gun this good, even in the tobacco litigation when I'd thought I'd seen it all,” Scruggs said in an interview. “They collaborated to defeat valid homeowner claims through rigged engineering reports and biased adjusting.

Boy oh boy. This is sounding more and more like the Bush Administration’s kind of friends. For an analysis of the obscene amount of money the insurance industry invests in Republican candidates, see Soaking U.S. Taxpayers.

Where’s the Federal Probe?
The Rigsby sisters had turned over their documentation to both the state attorney general and the U.S. Attorney. Just over a week ago, Mississippi’s Attorney General Jim Hood, a good Democrat, filed a lawsuit against State Farm for breach of contract. [See State Farm Paying Attorney Fee for Miss. Insurance Commissioner]. As part of that contract, Hood had agreed to drop the state’s criminal probe into State Farm. With State Farm’s alleged breach, Hood has not ruled out reopening the criminal probe.

The Sun Herald reported that the U.S. Attorney’s Office has subpoenaed records from Nationwide Insurance, State Farm, and Allstate. The paper also reported “records indicate a grand jury is hearing evidence. Grand jury proceedings are secret and don't necessarily result in criminal charges.”

I feel the public is in good hands with Attorney General Jim Hood and attorney groups like the Scruggs Katrina Group. But I have reservations when it comes to the federal probe.

In September 2001, George W. Bush appointed Dunn Lampton, a Republican, as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi. The Clarion-Ledger reported that Lampton was allegedly on a White House 2005 hit list for canning U.S. Attorneys. When asked why he would be on the list, Lampton said, “I don’t have a clue.”

How’s about this for a clue, Mr. Lampton? Your office has subpoenaed documents from three of the big insurance companies: State Farm, Allstate, and Nationwide. Your office has convened a grand jury in the federal probe of these companies … and if that isn’t plenty enough, you just successfully concluded the criminal conviction of “reputed Klansman James Ford Seale [for] kidnapping and conspiracy in the 1964 deaths of two black teenagers in southwest Mississippi.”

I applaud you for bringing justice to the families who have endured immense and unthinkable pain for the last 33 years. Bush’s lapdog Gonzales and his minions found out that you were not one of them. I’m quite sure that the compassionless folks in the White House do not share your sense of justice, your values. I think it’s probably quite safe to say that you are a bit out of sync with the Republican leadership, and once again, for this, I applaud you. You have brought justice to these families and a sense of closure for their wounds.

I hope that you will pursue with equal vigor your probe into the alleged criminal behavior of the corporations that have brought a different kind of unthinkable pain and suffering to the families of all racial and ethnic backgrounds here along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

To top it all off, Mr. Lampton, you’ve stirred up a hornets nest with pursuing a public campaign for gun control. Bravely, you yourself were featured in this public service television spot. As I’ve already stated twice and now shall do so for a third time, I applaud you, Mr. Lampton. This was the right thing to do. However, the Bushies do not share your values, sir. Even though you are a Republican, this may be yet another reason that your name was on Gonzales’ hit list for the political purging of the Justice department.

Be strong, Mr. Lampton. The people of South Mississippi, and for that matter throughout this country, need an honest to God federal investigation into the insurance racket.

Whether it’s the White House once again squirming out of taking responsibility for its own wrongdoing in the political firings of U.S. Attorneys or one of the Bush Administration’s partner industries spinning its PR to cover up their corporate corruption, we need strong public leadership.

What the insurance companies have done to the people of Mississippi and New Orleans will continue to happen to anyone of us anywhere in the country until we bring together every resource to end what is essentially a legal mob ring.

While the legal eagles are taking care of their responsibilities in our grand democratic scheme of government, we can also do our part to put all of our families on safer ground after natural disasters.

Since the insurance companies are obviously bowing out of taking care of the customers, the ultimate remedy is to expand the federal government’s flood insurance program to include all natural perils. Gulf Coast Congressman Gene Taylor (D-MS) introduced the Multiple Peril Insurance Act of 2007. (The bill is H.R. 920.)We can partner with Congressman Taylor to take the wind out of the insurance industry. You know what that means! It's political hell raising time again. We can call and email our own congressional representatives to request that they co-sponsor the Multiple Peril Insurance Act of 2007.

Taking these steps is how we begin to break up this insurance racket so that each of us and our families will truly be in good hands.


Watch the press conference (Quicktime) high-res low-res
Download and install Quicktime to view videos .

Press Release Statement of Atty. Don Barrett
Summary of the case (PDF) Concise Statement (PDF)
Court Documents: Shows vs. State Farm
Original Complaint (PDF) Exhibits (PDF) Note: These are large files and may take over a minute to load.

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