Cleared Broker Returns to Confront Georgia Official

July 5, 2006

More than a year after a father-and-son team from New Zealand were accused of selling bogus automobile policies to taxi and limousine services in Georgia, the father is organizing a class-action lawsuit against the state agency that filed the charges.

Allegations that Geoff Waterhouse and his son Robert collected nearly $3 million in bogus insurance premiums were dismissed in June by the state Attorney General’s office.

Now Waterhouse has returned to the U.S. from his New Zealand home to urge his former clients, more than 150 taxi and limo companies that were ordered to stop operations until they showed proof of other insurance for all their vehicles, to file a lawsuit against the Georgia Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner’s office.

“It was a load of rubbish,” Waterhouse said in Atlanta. “The claims were paid. We did our checking. And it’s taken them over a year to get it straight.”

In March 2005, Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine said that the policies sold by the father-and-son team were supposedly from Mark Solofa Insurance Co., an insurer located in American Samoa. However, the premiums were never passed on to the insurer and neither agent had a contract to represent Mark Solofa Insurance, he said.

Authorities raided the Waterhouses’ local offices in Barnesville, a town about 50 miles south of Atlanta, seizing computer records and other files. An image splashed in newspapers across the state showed a triumphant Oxendine, sporting a brown trench coat, walking alongside Robert Waterhouse as authorities escorted him to jail.

Robert Waterhouse spent three weeks in jail and an arrest warrant was issued for his father, who was in New Zealand at the time. They both were charged with 40 counts of theft by deception, 40 counts of insurance fraud and one count of racketeering.

Some of the taxi and limo companies, however, were back on the roads the next day. Officials in Atlanta, for instance, said only two of the city’s 1,600 taxicabs were insured by the Waterhouses.

Oxendine still maintains that the Waterhouses were scamming the companies by selling fraudulent policies through their two companies, Phoenix Brokers Inc. and Main Street Brokerage Inc.

Investigators collected enough evidence to revoke the Waterhouses’ insurance license and seize roughly $200,000 in assets to distribute to the wronged parties, Oxendine said. But not enough was gathered to satisfy the state’s criminal standard, so the charges were eventually dropped.

“He sold fraudulent policies, policies that didn’t exist,” Oxendine said. “Businesses, small mom-and-pop businesses, spent their hard-earned money to buy insurance they didn’t get.”

No lawsuit from Waterhouse or his former clients has been filed yet, and Oxendine said any effort to do so will be fruitless.

“If he wants to do it, he can learn about frivolous litigation and the penalties that this country has,” he said. “They might do it differently in New Zealand.”

Several former Waterhouse clients would not return telephone calls when contacted about potential legal action.

“Geoff Waterhouse, who lives in New Zealand’s Bay of Islands, said he still remains in the insurance business. And the Waterhouses are cooperating with the state’s lawyers in another investigation,” said Russ Willard, spokesman for the state Attorney General’s office.

“All of the allegations made against my son and I have been totally dismissed,” he said. “They are without foundation. And it’s taken them over a year to get it straight. It’s about time the record needs to be straight.”

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