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Local insurance agents face lawsuit [Eastern Wake News (Zebulon, N.C.)]

A family of insurance agents faces a lawsuit from former customers who accuse the agents of scamming them out of hundreds of dollars...

By Paul A. Specht, Eastern Wake News (Zebulon, N.C.)
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Nov. 27--SMITHFIELD -- A family of insurance agents practicing in Wendell and Johnston County faces a lawsuit from former customers who accuse the agents of scamming them out of hundreds of dollars.

The agents accused are Will Honaker and his wife, Tiffany, who own Smithfield Insurance; Heather Richardson, who owns Clayton Insurance; and Holly Cooper, who owns Selma Insurance and Affordable Choice Insurance & Tax Service in Wendell with her husband, Arthur "Brad" Cooper. Will Honaker, Heather Richardson and Holly Cooper are the children of Bill and Karen Honaker, who own Premium Service of Smithfield, which the four agencies use to finance policies for their customers. The elder Honakers are also named in the lawsuit.

According to a lawsuit filed on Nov. 15, six former customers -- Double A Hauling, Scott Traynor, Rigoberto Quinteros, Gilberto Garay, Ramon Garay, and LePage Heating & Air -- accuse the "Honaker family" of developing "a plan to systematically overcharge selected customers by fraudulently inflating and overstating the actual premiums and concealing the overcharges ... by not providing their customers with accurate documentation and, where necessary, providing forged or false documentation."

The plaintiffs each seek more than $10,000 in damages.

Their lawsuit was prompted by a N.C. Department of Insurance investigation last year which found that the agents excessively quoted insurance premiums to at least 50 customers by a total of $131,261. Those affected ranged from individuals and government agencies to churches and trucking companies, according to Department of Insurance records; and overpayments ranged from $50 to $15,000.

The agents disputed the claims. But, they ultimately accepted cash fines totaling $200,000 and, in doing so, avoided the risk of losing their licenses in an administrative hearing or judicial review of the case. The Department of Insurance also ordered the agencies to refund any of the affected policyholders who requested a refund.

In a statement written after the investigation, the agents' attorney, Leo Daughtry, wrote: "(The agents) admit that they've made mistakes, but they were innocent mistakes and there was no malice intended."

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Lamar Armstrong, the plaintiffs' attorney, in the lawsuit argues the agents' mistakes were "interrelated and widespread practices by which the defendants, acting in concert, carried out the Honaker Family Scam."

Armstrong said his clients seek repayment through the lawsuit -- not a refund -- because the DOI mandate only required the agents to repay improperly charged bills dating back to January 2010.

"(The improper charges) could go back much farther than that," Armstrong said in a Nov. 21 interview. He called the agents' mistakes "obscene" and the DOI punishment "a slap on the wrist."

Daughtry, reached by phone on Nov. 21, said he and the agents are disappointed by the lawsuit because "the family did everything in their power to make sure everyone (who requested a refund) was compensated properly."

Asked how many customers requested a refund, Daughtry said he couldn't remember. He declined to comment further.

Most of the agents either couldn't be reached by reporters or declined to comment. Brad Cooper released a statement on Nov. 23, but didn't address questions about the suit:

"I want to thank the community, customers and close friends for their prayers and encouragement as our family goes through this trial."

A hearing in the case has not been set.

Specht: 919-829-4826

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(c)2012 the Eastern Wake News (Zebulon, N.C.)

Visit the Eastern Wake News (Zebulon, N.C.) at www.easternwakenews.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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