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LOBBYGATE: Ron DeSantis’s State Insurance Chief Failed to Declare Interest, As Millions of Floridians Face Rising Premiums And Loss of Insurance
Florida's insurance industry has been plagued with corruption, negligence, retribution, and fraud under Governor DeSantis and his cabinet.
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There is an insurance crisis in the state of Florida. Residents who can no longer afford rising home insurance rates are rushing to get covered through Citizens Insurance – a state insurer established by the Florida Legislature in August 2002 – and now the largest insurer in the state of Florida.
Headquartered in Tallahassee, Florida, Citizens Insurance is a not for profit, tax-exempt insurer of last resort for home owners who are unable to obtain home insurance coverage elsewhere. As a government entity, Citizens Insurance is overseen by the Governor of Florida, and the Governor’s cabinet oversees and appoints the Board of Governors for Citizens Insurance.
“Citizens operates according to statutory requirements established by the Florida Legislature and is governed by a Board of Governors. The board administers a Plan of Operation approved by the Florida Financial Services Commission, an oversight panel made up of the Governor, Chief Financial Officer, Attorney General and Commissioner of Agriculture.”
In September 2022, Citizens announced it was practically insolvent. At a Board of Governors meeting, the CEO of Citizens Insurance, Barry Gilway, said the organization had reached 1.055 million policies — more than double the number of two years prior — as private insurers continue dropping clients in an effort to curb financial losses. Gilway also said that private property insurers were projected to have $1 billion in losses in 2022. As more insurance companies are declared insolvent, Floridians are flocking to Citizens.
This presents a major problem for Florida, especially post Hurricane Ian. Policy holders are paying into Citizens, while Citizens itself is near insolvency. Ultimately, this means that over one million Floridians are paying for insurance coverage that isn’t guaranteed to them, because Citizens doesn’t have enough money in reserves to cover every consumer’s claim in the aftermath of a catastrophic event like Hurricane Ian.
Following Ian in October 2022, Citizen's policy count exceeded 1.1 million. The company, post Ian, is projected to insure 15 percent of the insurance market in Florida by the end of 2023.
This crisis is becoming so severe that it prompted Governor DeSantis to call for an emergency legislative session on April 26, 2022 to address concerns “related to property insurance, reinsurance, changes to the Florida Building Code to improve the affordability of property insurance, the Office of Insurance Regulation, civil remedies, and appropriations.” The special legislative session was scheduled to commence at 9:00 a.m., Monday, May 23rd, 2022, and end no later than 11:59 p.m., Friday, May 27th, 2022.
At this time, Barry Gillway was still the CEO of Citizen’s Insurance.
Outrage flowed during the special legislative session. Florida homeowners viewed the event as a means to aide insurance companies, as opposed to lowering rates for homeowners in Florida who are paying for insurance that cannot cover their claims. In other words, Citizens was and is still selling policies to homeowners, knowing they don’t have enough reserves to cover policy holders, and also knowing that Citizens is not financially solvent.
In any business transaction, customers have the right to sue if they are not given a product as advertised that they paid for. In March 2023 while speaking at a press conference, Governor DeSantis casually mentioned for the first time that Citizens Insurance is not solvent. Meanwhile, Citizens continues to sell insurance policies. This could be grounds for Floridians who have Citizens policies to sue over fraudulent, bait and switch business practices. Citizens surely understands this, which is why, in conjunction with Governor DeSantis, Gilway alongside the Governor, lobbied for legislation that provides legal immunity to Citizens Insurance over claims of fraud and willful tort.
LOBBYING THEMSELVES, FOR THEMSELVES?
Making matters worse, Governor DeSantis, his cabinet, and Barry Gilway have known since at least 2019 that Citizens was on the verge of being insolvent, and have done nothing to address it. In fact, pertinent information has been hidden away from Florida’s voting public. Not only has the state failed to address the issue of insolvency, but state leaders have declined to perform Reserve Audits upon request from insurance claims professionals.
DeSantis and his cabinet – which includes Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody and Florida’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO) JImmy Patronis– committed potential ethics violations by allowing for Gilway to serve as CEO of Citizens while he was also a registered lobbyist. Gilway does not appear to have ever disclosed his lobbying publicly during the years he served as CEO if Citizens, between 2012-2022. Research for this article has confirmed Gilway was a registered lobbyist for Citizens the entire time he was CEO. This fact was never disclosed anywhere on the Citizens website, nor in the press. As a registered lobbyist while serving as CEO, Gilway was lobbying in support of Governor Ron DeSantis’s legislative efforts, including a recent bailout for insurance companies.
In March 2023, Governor DeSantis signed House Bill 837, internally known as the Civil Remedies Bill, which passed in the Senate by a 23-15 vote. This legislation enacted significant changes to civil litigation practice in Florida, and helps protect insurance companies and businesses from lawsuits. Under this new, heavily-lobbied-for legislation, negligence alone does not demonstrate bad faith, according to a press release from the Governor’s office.
As per the Citizens Enabling Statute, Citizens policy holders can only sue for malicious prosecution, willful tort, and fraud.
The bailout is so absurd, that it even promoted public condemnation from President Donald Trump who said, “RINO Ron DeSanctimonious is delivering the biggest insurance company BAILOUT to Globalist Insurance Companies, IN HISTORY. He’s also crushed Florida homeowners whose houses were destroyed in the Hurricane— They’re getting pennies on the dollar. His insurance Commissioner does NOTHING, while Florida’s lives are ruined. This is the worst Insurance Scam in the entire Country!”
The Governor signed the measure (HB 837) in Tallahassee without the usual public ceremony that Governor DeSantis has become known for. The measure reduces from four years to two years a statute of limitations for filing negligence lawsuits, and largely eliminates “one-way attorney” fees that insurers can have to pay to cover the costs of plaintiffs’ lawyers. The result is not dissimilar to the 2008 banking crisis, where bad faith actors in the financial world received bailouts and protections from prosecution.
Nor does the law signed by DeSantis lower insurance premiums. It simply hurts Floridians seeking compensation from businesses that have harmed them.
“After four years in Tallahassee, and two special sessions, Ron DeSantis continues to ignore the worsening property insurance crisis in Florida. Now, he’s signing legislation that makes it easier for insurance companies to rip off their policyholders and get away with it,” said Florida Democratic Party spokesperson Devon Cruz. “Once again, DeSantis sides with insurance companies and corporations over Floridians.”
And of course, Citizens Property Insurance doesn’t care, because they lobbied for legal protections while knowing they are not solvent enough to fulfill claims filed by their growing list of policy holders.
A whistleblower by the name of Scott David Thomas reached out to me to discuss the matter. Thomas is a licensed claims professional who harbors concerns over this attack on consumer rights by Ron DeSantis, Jimmy Patronis, and Barry Gilway of Citizens Property insurance.
Thomas has brought forward dozens of emails he has transmitted to The Department of Financial Services (DFS), The Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR), Florida’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Jimmy Patronis, and Governor Ron DeSantis since the Governor took office. The communications paint a grim picture of back door deals and intentional acts of political deception that call into question the Citizens Enabling Statute 627.351.
One of the most concerning issues Thomas raises involves potential ethical violations at the State of Florida’s Citizens Property Insurance, directly linking former Citizens CEO Barry Gilway with the promotion of the Governor’s political agenda since he took office in 2019, as a political lobbyist from 2012 to 2023. Below are confirmations via the Florida Lobbyist website that Gilway was a lobbyist the entire time he served as CEO of Citizens Insurance:
In addition to the serious questions raised about Citizens Property insurance claims practices, revelations of Thomas's previous whistleblower warnings from 2019 reinforce concerns about leadership and decision making at Citizens Property Insurance.
In April 2020, Thomas received a response from the Director of Property and Casualty at the OIR. Having made his request to conduct reserve audits on claim files for his clients regarding insurance carriers, he felt Citizens, and several other insurance carriers that have since gone out of business were teetering on the brink of insolvency. As a former National Technical manager for a well-respected international adjustment firm and 10 years of professional experience at Nationwide Insurance,Thomas is extremely familiar with reserve audits.
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Many of these same companies are now in “liquidation”, and one can only wonder why Florida’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Jimmy Patronis, Governor Ron DeSantis, the OIR, and Barry Gilway of Citizens Property Insurance would not want to disclose this sort of information. Had Thomas been able to follow through with these reserve audits, he could have brought this information to the attention of the CFO and kept Florida’s insurance Property Market solvent.
Below are several of the insurance companies that are currently in liquidation.
Companies in Liquidation
Thomas, publicly revealed on December 15th 2022 that Citizens Property insurance CEO Barry Gilway had been a registered lobbyist as far back as 2012, without declaring the matter.
In April of 2022, Gilway was interviewed by Channel 10 News about Governor DeSantis’s special session regarding insurance. During the interview, Gilway said the “vast majority of roof claims are fraud” and that it is just a “money grab for attorneys and public adjusters”.
If a “vast majority” of roofing claims filed in Florida are fraudulent, then Barry Gilway is claiming that the vast majority of Citizens Property Insurance policy holders filed fraudulent claims. This is a very big accusation and claim to make with no data to back it up as evidence. If hundreds of thousands of Citizen policy holders were filing fraudulent roof claims, there would certainly be data and a statutory requirement for them to prove it, as confirmed in Citizens own best claims practices. However, Gilway never provided any data, because his claims were false, and were clearly stated as a way to advance and provide cover for Governor DeSantis’s special legislative session that was convened for the sake of crafting legal immunity for Citizens Insurance.
Gilway’s comments came just days before DeSantis signed a proclamation calling for the special session. Coincidentally, that very same week in December 2022 – and directly following Mr. Thomas’s revelations – Mr. Gilway unexpectedly retired from Citizens Property insurance. In the same meeting where Mr. Gilway announced his departure to Governor DeSantis’s board, the organization swiftly decided to pay Gilway up to $650,000 over the next few years to keep him engaged as an “advisor” to the state-backed insurer. This, despite their insolvency. For context, Governor Ron DeSantis’s own salary is just $135,000.00 per year.
Unfortunately, for the consumer, none of the changes Mr. Gilway lobbied for have made any difference with regard to lowering the costs of insurance, as premiums continue to skyrocket. It is worth noting that Florida has the highest homeowners property insurance rates in the entire country, and rates for Florida homeowners have drastically increased under Governor DeSantis.
Gilway’s hidden lobby efforts reveals a long history of public corruption seemingly tolerated and indeed fostered by the Governor of Florida and his cabinet. Lobbying had become such an issue with regards to Florida’s plagued insurance market that in May of 2018, Florida CFO Jimmy Patronis sent a formal letter to Mr. Gilway stating:
“Transparency is one of the best ways we can ensure accountability. It should be crystal clear who is interested in influencing Citizens policy changes or securing contracts with the Corporation. The Citizens internal Code of Ethics should address lobbying activities. Considering the lack of a statutory requirement, I am requesting Citizens attend the next meeting of the Governor and Cabinet to discuss the Corporation’s plan of action and timeline to correct this shortcoming.”
It is clear that in 2018, Mr. Patronis wrote this email to Mr. Gilway as a way to provide political cover if at some point down the road Mr. Gilway’s lobbying efforts for the Governor’s agenda were ever discovered. In the 2022 quote from Barry Gilway, he identifies himself as only “Citizens President/ CEO & Executive Director,” once again leaving out the fact that he is also a lobbyist.
Following Patronis’s letter to Gilway, Citizens Property Insurance updated their company policy manual to include changes regarding lobbying. Gilway, however, continued to lobby while serving as CEO of Citizens, and never publicly disclosed it on Citizens' website, nor to the media.
Citizens own “Corporate Policy” and Code of Ethics defines a lobbyist as:
Lobbyist means a person who is employed and receives payment, or who contracts for economic consideration for the purpose of lobbying, or a person who is principally employed for governmental affairs by another person or entity to lobby on behalf of that person or entity. “Lobbyist” does not include a person who is:
1. An attorney, agent, adjuster, or any person in active representation of a client with respect to an insurance claim or a judicial proceeding who contacts Citizens with regard to that insurance claim or judicial proceeding.
2. An employee of an agency or legislative or judicial branch acting in the normal course of his or her duties.
3. A confidential informant who is providing or wishes to provide, confidential information to be used for law enforcement purposes.
4. A person who lobbies to procure a contract pursuant to Chapter 287 which contract is less than the threshold for CATEGORY ONE as provided in F.S. s. 287.017. ($20,000)
The Citizens Corporate Policy and Code of Ethics clearly states that a “lobbyist” does not include a person who is an employee of an agency or legislative or judicial branch acting in the normal course of his or her duties. Given this statement in the Citizens Code of Ethics, it’s even more alarming that Gilway, who was paid to be CEO of Citizens, was also simultaneously acting as a lobbyist without publicly identifying himself as a lobbyist.
Mr. Thomas contacted Mike Maitland, the records custodian at Citizens Property insurance to establish which media entities, newspapers, television, and radio stations interviewed Barry Gilway between 2012-2022. Maitland replied: “Citizens’ media relations and external affairs departments report that they do not maintain a list of all media entities which interviewed Barry Gilway in 2022 in the normal and ordinary course of business.” This is of great importance. Mr. Gilway, as a lobbyist, is required to keep records of his activities.
One can currently only speculate on what matters Gilway has kept from the public while doing Governor DeSantis’s political bidding at the expense of Florida homeowners.
When Thomas came forward in December 2021 and contacted Governor DeSantis, Citizens Insurance, the Florida Department of Financial Services, CFO Jimmy Patronis, and Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody regarding his concerns that the ability of consumers to file a civil remedies notice against Citizens Property Insurance had been removed, less than 90 days later, the Florida Department of Financial Services charged Thomas in an act of retaliation with ten counts of violating Florida Insurance Statutes. Their retaliation against Thomas was nothing more than use of government force to silence, intimidate, and discredit an insurance industry whistleblower.
Thomas has exclusively provided me with hundreds of documents and dozens of internal communications between himself, the office of Governor Ron DeSantis, the Department of Financial Services, CFO Jimmy Patronis, Attorney General Ashley Moody, former Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, and former Citizens Property Insurance CEO Barry Gilway. These documents paint a very concerning picture regarding what Florida Government officials knew about the looming insurance crisis and insolvency of the State’s insurer of last resort, when they knew it, and why they failed to act or disclose the truth to Floridians and Citizens policy holders. It also reveals a coordinated attempt by Citizens Insurance, Jimmy Patronis, Ashley Moody and Governor DeSantis to intentionally conceal this damning information from the public in an effort to aid Governor DeSantis re-election as Governor of Florida, and his 2024 Presidential campaign.
As we get closer to Hurricane season, millions of Floridians whose homes are likely to be flooded or destroyed will soon discover that they have been paying the state of Florida for home owner insurance policies that are not financially solvent to cover claims in the aftermath of another Hurricane or natural disaster. Sadly, this is the current reality of tens of thousands of Florida homeowners whose property was destroyed in Hurricane Ian, and the reality of hundreds of thousands of other homeowners in Florida who are frantically searching for insurance ahead of Hurricane season. This will undeniably create a homelessness crisis in the state of Florida, all thanks to Governor DeSantis’s corruption, back door lobby deals, and failed oversight of Citizens Insurance and CFO Jimmy Patronis. It is without a doubt the largest homeowner insurance scam in our country at the moment, and it can be found in Tallahassee under Governor DeSantis’s roof!
This is a developing story… and I will be releasing these whistleblower documents in a series of investigative reports. Stay tuned.
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