Tenn. Ethics Panel Powerless to Probe Travel Assured Ties

September 17, 2006

Ethics panel can’t take up complaints over travel insurance
Received by Newsfinder from AP
Sep 14, 2006 12:17 Eastern Time
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ Consumers want the state’s new Ethics Commission to investigate ties between state officials and a Crossville-based firm caught selling travel insurance without a license, but the panel says it has no authority to do so.

Tennessee filed a cease-and-desist order Sept. 7 against Trip Assured Inc., following similar actions by Michigan, North Carolina and Texas based on consumer complaints.

The firm, which sells trip interruption or cancellation benefits, has been the target of more than 120 consumer complaints filed with the Knoxville Better Business Bureau and the Tennessee Division of Consumer Affairs since 2002.

It took state officials until this month to determine that Trip Assured was improperly selling insurance without a license. Consumers claim that the firm’s political ties to the director of the state consumer affairs office delayed official action.

Twelve consumers who say they’ve been ripped off by Trip Assured wrote to newly appointed Ethics Commission Executive Director Bruce Androphy asking for an investigation into whether friendships and family and political ties let Trip Assured operate free of state scrutiny.

“We just felt it would be a good thing for the ethics commission to start on, because the ethics doesn’t seem to be too strong here,” said Marybelle Dilts, 75, of Lansing, Mich.

Androphy said the law that created the Ethics Commission prohibits it from looking into anything that happened before Oct. 1, the same day the panel will begin work.

“We can’t go backward and investigate for activities that occurred prior to our jurisdiction,” Androphy said.

Trip Assured’s owner, Mack Johnson, is a friend and campaign contributor to former U.S. Rep. Bob Clement, now a candidate for mayor of Nashville.

Clement’s wife, Mary Clement directs the state’s consumer affairs office, which is part of the Department of Commerce and Insurance. She recused herself from any dealings with Trip Assured 18 months ago.

The letter from consumers says a Trip Assured attorney, former Department of Commerce and Insurance general counsel David Broemel, made campaign donations to Clement and Gov. Phil Bredesen. They wrote that Broemel’s brother Vance works in the Consumer Advocate and Protection Division of the state attorney general’s office.

Both David and Vance Broemel have declined to comment. Attorney General spokeswoman Sharon Curtis-Flair said Vance Broemel represents the state before the Tennessee Regulatory Authority in legal actions against utilities.

Scott White, the insurance department’s deputy commissioner, said the case was more difficult to pursue because the complaints came from consumers living outside the state. Once investigators found Trip Assured was selling travel insurance to Tennessee residents, it was easier to act, he said.

“We treated this the same as any other complaint,” White said. “It’s a complicated matter, and it’s taken awhile.”

Dilts said she hasn’t received most of the nearly $2,400 Trip Assured has owed her since she had to cancel a vacation for medical reasons.

“I guess they’ve got 17 days to clean up their act,” said Barry Resnick, a California resident who is also pursuing a complaint against Trip Assured. “Or we’ll resubmit the letter Oct. 1 and see what happens.”

Topics Tennessee

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