Update on Oxendine Cab Allegations

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(APN) ATLANTA — On March 1, 2005, after declaring his candidacy for Lieutenant Governor, Georgia Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine staged a media event – with himself in the starring role – to record the arrest of Barnesville insurance agent, Robert Waterhouse, as previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News.

Oxendine withdrew his candidacy for higher office the same day Waterhouse was granted a hearing and later, all 41 counts of theft, fraud and racketeering were dismissed.

Oxendine charged Waterhouse with selling “bogus” insurance and all 155 of his taxi-company customers, and hundreds of drivers, were told to stop serving their riders until other coverage was purchased. Finding affordable insurance coverage is a difficult and time-consuming chore for livery companies because they have a high exposure to claims.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Atlanta’s tourism and convention industries were threatened by the commissioner’s action.

According to The Insurance Journal, Oxendine admitted “numerous businessmen [are] in financial peril across the state.”

Oxendine told the Associated Press, “even though the vehicle owners thought they were obeying the law, the taxis and limos must be pulled off the road because they are not legally insured….There will probably be some businesses that go under because of this.”

Back in February 1997, more than a year after the Georgia Court of Appeals declared taxi insurance companies owned by Solomon Bekele and his brother-in-law, Cheru Terefe, to be illegal, Georgia Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine explained his third postponement of a hearing to revoke their license to The Atlanta Journal Constitution: “Oxendine says closing all the self-insurers could force hundreds of cabbies to park their vehicles or to begin driving with no insurance. ‘Regulation is a balancing act,’ Oxendine said. ‘If you take away the cabs, what does that do to the citizens?’”

APN noted in our previous story that Bekele and Terefe are major contributors to the Commissioner’s political war-chest. As owners of the largest taxi fleets and taxi insurance companies in Georgia, they would naturally stand to benefit when Oxendine put their competitors out of business.

Another person who may have come out ahead when Waterhouse lost his business is Macon attorney, John Kennedy. When Towiliga-circuit District Attorney, John Milam, seized the Waterhouse bank accounts – reportedly between $200,000 and $293,000 – the funds were put under receivership to be administered by the court-appointed Kennedy. The money was supposed to be used to pay accident claims and reimburse customers’ premiums.

On April 27, 2006, during a hearing held at the Monroe County Courthouse, Assistant Attorney General David McLaughlin alluded to “administrative fees eating up the money,” although not a single penny had yet been disbursed for either purpose.

In the investigation conducted after Waterhouse was imprisoned and his family business destroyed, the company they represented, Contractors Bonding Limited (CBL), was criminally charged with selling “fake” insurance. McLaughlin said he was planning a trial to take place this summer.

A source close to the proceedings said CBL had been anxious to pay all outstanding claims right from the start of the state’s prosecution, just as claims had been promptly paid all along since the Waterhouses first contracted with CBL. However, CBL was stonewalled by Georgia officials until the government named a claims-adjusting company of their own choosing. The new company was named at the hearing and authorized to begin settlements using additional monies provided by CBL.

On June 7, 2006, Godfrey (Geoff) Waterhouse, Robert’s father and business partner, arrived in Atlanta from New Zealand. The same charges had been filed against him preventing his return until they were dismissed.

At the time of Robert’s arrest, it was reported the senior Waterhouse was “on the lam.” “That’s patently absurd,” Waterhouse said. “We obviously had no inkling that the authorities would swoop down and take Robert off to jail.” In March 2005, Waterhouse was in his own home in New Zealand.

Geoff Waterhouse said his dream of a financially secure retirement has disappeared with the loss of his business and expenses incurred this past year in restoring his family’s good name.

Oxendine told the press the Waterhouses netted $3 million in premiums from their “scam.” According to Waterhouse, the Commissioner was looking at gross receipts without deducting for claims, adjusting fees and his business expenses which included paying premium taxes to the Georgia Insurance Department on a quarterly basis.

Oxendine also said the largest claim the Waterhouses had to pay was $25,000 and their “bogus” operation was exposed when larger claims were made which they couldn’t pay, seemingly contradicting his own assertion that the Waterhouses were rolling in dough. “We paid several claims well in excess of that figure,” Waterhouse said.

Even though they did all their business in the open from a Main-Street storefront and had faithfully submitted fully-completed reports to Oxendine’s office, Waterhouse reiterated his claim that no one in authority had approached him or his son for information or for their records before the highly-publicized events of last March put them out of business.

About the author:

Betty Clermont is a Staff Writer for Atlanta Progressive News and may be reached at betty@atlantaprogressivenews.com

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This article may be reprinted in full at no cost where Atlanta Progressive News is credited.

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