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Gallagher Charges Miami Insurance Executives with Operating without a License


TALLAHASSEE – Florida Treasurer and Insurance Commissioner Tom Gallagher announced today that two top executives of Well America Group, Inc., a South Florida company that sold insurance policies to large employers throughout Florida and Georgia, have been charged with transacting insurance without a license.

Department of Insurance fraud investigators said the Miami-based company sold unregulated major medical health plans to dozens of employers -- including the City of Leesburg, Central Florida Electric Cooperative, Superior Shade & Blind Co., Baer's and Carl's furniture stores, schools, car dealerships and the restaurant chain Pollo Tropical -- and left some $3.7 million in unpaid claims when the company folded.

"Licensed companies are subject to regular monitoring and oversight that can help regulators identify problems and hopefully prevent such large losses," Gallagher said. "But when companies operate outside that scope, not only is it illegal – it can be devastating to policyholders."

Booked into the Dade County Jail this morning were Well America's president and chief executive officer Geoffrey Alexander Cole Sr., 37, and senior vice-president and chief operations officer Vivian Visser Lehman, 36. They were picked up by law enforcement investigators from the department's Division of Insurance Fraud at their homes, Cole at 8125 S.W. 52nd Ave. in Miami and Lehman at 1311 Castile Ave. in Coral Gables.

Cole and Lehman were arrested on warrants charging them with transacting insurance without a license, a third-degree felony. They face up to five years in jail and a $5,000 fine if convicted. The Dade County State Attorney's Office is handling the prosecution.

The department began investigating Well America after receiving complaints of slow payments in the fall of 1999. By then, the company, located at 3400 Coral Way in Miami, had been selling policies for less than a year. Investigators said that despite taking in hundreds of thousands of dollars a month in premiums, Well America ran into problems because it had assumed financial risk and guaranteed premiums for two years – insurance activities that require a license.

The risk Well America took on, investigators said, was created by a gap between what the premiums covered and where excess coverage for high levels of claims began. Well America was out of business by August 2000.

Gallagher said the problem of unauthorized insurance can be difficult to uncover unless consumers register complaints. Consumers with questions about an insurance company with whom they may be considering doing business are urged to contact the department's Consumer Assistance Helpline at 1-800-342-2762.

The Department of Insurance, Division of Insurance Fraud, investigates various forms of fraud in insurance, including health, life, auto, property and workers' compensation insurance. Anyone with information about this case or any possible fraud scheme should call the Department's Fraud Hotline at 1-800-378-0445. A reward of up to $25,000 is offered for information leading to a conviction.