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Scott leaves door open to new Citizens Insurance probe after 'integrity' firings

Gov. Rick Scott said Tuesday he was open to having an investigation into the recent firings of Citizens Insurance’s entire Office of Corporate Integrity, though he stopped short of calling for the immediate probe that some good governance groups have asked for.

Scott said he would wait for the completion of the current Inspector General investigation into Citizens—which focuses on corporate spending issues—before deciding whether or not to call for an investigation into the firings.

The Herald/Times reported last week that Citizens had disbanded its Office of Corporate Integrity—the four-person unit responsible for investigating growing complaints of fraud and abuse within the company.

Scott wrote a letter saying that he was “concerned” about the firings.

On Monday, Citizens CEO Barry Gilway defended the firings as a way to realign the company’s operations to focus more on forensic fraud. He said he regretted the way the firings were handled, and was open to having Scott’s inspector general look more closely at what happened.

Scott said he’d hold off on making that decision, and follow a “logical process” of letting the current investigation run its course before deciding on any additional probes.

“He’s not taking it off the table,” said Melissa Sellers, a spokesperson for Scott.

Good governance groups like Integrity Florida have asked publicly whether the four watchdogs were fired for doing their jobs too well.

Citizens has denied that that is the case, and said the terminated employees did not have the necessary expertise to proactively root out fraud within the state-run insurer.

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater said Tuesday that the way the terminations were handled was “inappropriate.” He said the process should have been more transparent and that new fraud investigators should have been hired prior to the termination of the Office of Corporate Integrity. He pointed out that Gilway, who joined Citizens this summer, has acknowledged the mishandling of the firings.

When Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office faced public scrutiny after it terminated two foreclosure fraud investigators last year, Bondi asked Atwater to appoint an Inspector General to look into it.

The Inspector eventually cleared Bondi’s office of any wrongdoing. Atwater said that in the current Citizens firings, an Inspector General probe would be appropriate.

“I’m hoping that the Inspector General investigation that’s already taking place, into the issue of some of the spending that was going on goes ahead and broadens its stay,” he said. He added that he does not have any reason to believe that the employees were fired for the wrong reasons.

Integrity Florida, a good governance group that called for an inspector general probe into the firings, said it hoped it would begin as soon as possible.

“We are encouraged that both the Governor and Citizens’ President are open to an investigation into the closure of the state-run insurer’s Office of Corporate Integrity,” said Dan Krassner, executive director. “Integrity Florida believes this independent review should be conducted as soon as possible because Floridians deserve to know why four internal government watchdogs lost their jobs in the middle of the Governor’s ongoing investigation."