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Florida officials threaten to yank Prudential's license in adminstrative complaint

(Editor's note: Prudential and Florida reached a settlement agreement Feb. 19, 1997)

Florida officials in early December threatened to pull Prudential's license to sell insurance in Florida unless Prudential started coming up with some answers pretty quickly.

If you'd like to read Florida's side of the story, check out our copy of Florida's administrative complaint. It is long, but it makes interesting reading, particularly if you are wondering whether the company did everything it could to stop the abuses as early as it could have. We have split the document up into two parts, the first includes pages 1 through 14 and the second includes pages 15 through 34. And, of course, keep in mind that this is a copy of a legal document, not the actual legal document itself.

Or, you can read our summary below and follow the links to the parts you want to read more about.

Specifically, Florida officials are saying that an audit in January, 1983 revealed the dishonest and illegal sales practices that cheated customers in Iowa. A member of the company's auditing staff tried hard to warn the company. The warnings made it to the high ranking company officials, Florida officials say. But the company failed to take action. Not just once, but time and again.

Then, when a TV station picked up on the audit, Prudential took action. They fired a couple of employees. Then, according to the Florida report, they went back to business as usual.

In the meantime, the auditor who revealed the bad sales practices went on to find the same kind of thing in Wisconsin and Michigan. By now it's 1986, during which time Prudential customers were still being subjected to the company's dishonesty.

The auditor, on his own initiative, forged ahead with his investigation and finally received an audience with corporate management in Newark, N.J.

Prudential told the auditor he did a good job. Then they did nothing substantive to stop the problems, the Florida report says.

In the meantime, more reports from company sales managers and others started to filter in about the same kind of problems. In 1992, a nine-page memo was written and circulated to corporate management about the problem.

Finally, in 1996, the Multi-State Life Insurance Task Force, headed up by New Jersey, revealed the problems in its report. The company then - finally - said publicly it would stop and apologized to its customers.

The Florida report gives examples of how the company taught the agents to prey on customers, and provided them with the information to do it. Then the company encouraged and pressured agents to engage in illegal and deceptive sales practices, Florida officials say. Some agents who used improper sales techniques were even rewarded with promotions to management positions.

To compound matters, Prudential not only failed to keep proper forms that might have alerted customers and regulatory authorities about the problems, but they later destroyed documents that would have helped determine which customers were bilked and how much they were owed.

If this is true, is it any wonder that Florida officials say its unfair to expect Prudential customers to come up with documentation that will prove they are owed money? And is it any wonder they are considering pulling Prudential's license?

But is it true? Prudential says most of what is in the administrative complaint is not. In fact, they say the complaint is full of "sweeping generalizations, accusations and legal conclusions without sufficiently setting forth the factual bases upon which statements rely." The company has filed a request for a formal administrative hearing to prove that. Florida officials say they have not set a date for that hearing.

Prudential officials have admitted that documents were destroyed in Florida - where they were caught doing it - but they otherwise maintain the proposed settlement is fair to consumers.

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