A South Carolina school district has sued an insurance brokerage and several insurance companies, saying the district was sold excessive policies and charged too much.
The Berkeley County School District filed suit in U.S. District Court, seeking more than $42 million from its former chief financial officer, Brantley D. Thomas III; Stanley Pokorney and his son, Scott Pokorney of Knauff Insurance Agency; Chicago-based Hub International Limited, the insurance brokerage firm that acquired Knauff in 2012; and two of Hub’s subsidiaries, including one based in Charlotte, The Post and Courier of Charleston reported.
The lawsuit says the school district spent almost $14 million in the last 16 years to insure itself against “non-existent or nominal risk.”
Thomas, 61, pleaded guilty last week to 20 counts including embezzlement, money laundering and public corruption. He has admitted to embezzling almost $1 million from the district and accepting kickbacks from insurance executives.
The Hanahan, S.C., man is awaiting sentencing on the allegations and faces up to 300 years in prison and more than $5 million in fines.
The government will ask for a reduced sentence if Thomas’s cooperation helps in the prosecution of another person, according to his plea agreement.
Last month, an additional 15 counts of embezzlement and forgery from a state grand jury were unsealed. Thomas faces up to 135 years in prison on state charges.
Federal indictments against Thomas charge that between 2013 and 2016, he received $32,000 from the insurance agency in increments of $2,000. According to the lawsuit, the conspiracy began as early as 2001.
Thomas oversaw all district finances until he was fired Feb. 7, a day after officials learned of an investigation of school district finances by Wells Fargo and the FBI.
According to the lawsuit, Thomas received payoffs for recommending unneeded insurance policies and policy reviews.
The district had insurance coverage through the state Insurance Reserve Fund, as required by law. That fund provides low-cost insurance without the use of agents or brokers.
That coverage included district automobiles, school buses, all-risk coverage on buildings and contents, builders’ risk, data processing equipment and media, and inland marine equipment, such as lawnmowers and golf carts.
The lawsuit says at the suggestion of Knauff and Hub, Thomas purchased additional policies for builder’s risk, student accident, crime, cyber policies, general liability, directors and officers liability for a district nonprofit; inland marine coverage including terrorism coverage; and errors and omissions coverage for school board members.
Many of those policies had minimal claims or no claims at all.
From 2001 to 2012, the district paid Knauff more than $7.4 million for policies and almost $2 million for consulting and broker’s fees, 26 percent of the premiums. From 2012 to 2016, the district paid Hub $3.4 million for premiums and $1.4 million in fees, 41 percent of the premiums.
The total premiums were $10.8 million, and fees were more than $3.3 million.
The Post and Courier of Charleston said Hub was closed because of a snow storm at press time.
District lawyer Josh Whitley said he expects additional indictments in the case, and he also expects additional lawsuits.
“As a board, we will pursue every avenue to right the terrible wrongs that have been carried out against the children of Berkeley County School District,” said Sally Wofford, board chairwoman.
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