• 9 Investigates Citizens Insurance travel costs


    Citizens Insurance customers are paying more for less coverage, to help get the company on firmer financial footing.

    But WFTV investigative reporter, George Spencer confirmed that top leadership has been spending big on travel and meals the entire time.

    Last month's Tropical Storm Isaac could've been much worse for Florida.

    A major hurricane might force some of Citizens' 1.4 million policy holders to rely on that coverage.

    Rates have climbed for customers of Citizens Insurance, even as Citizens staffers traveled the world, spending millions, each year.

    "It's outrageous because ... it's the same people that come before the legislature and cry poor mouth, and say we need to raise rates," said State Sen. Mike Fasano.

    Homeowners have worried about inflated prices for years.

    "I thought they were trying to get additional money out of me that I didn't need to pay," said homeowner Karmen Williamson, a former Citizens Insurance customer.

    But travel costs could be a new black eye for the insurer.

    Citizens' budget lists $3.4 million in travel and meals, more than double last year's $1.5 million.

    For executives it was international trips, pricey hotels and some dinner tabs over $500.

    It's not just Citizens customers paying the insurer of last resort, it also their neighbors. Even homeowners not covered by citizens pay the company assessments to cover old storm damage.

    Take Citizens CFO Sharon Binnun's travel costs during April. More than $6,000 was spent on airfare between Tallahassee, Europe and Bermuda.

    At least $2,700 was spent in London, Including hotel, restaurants and car service.

    And travel costs included $559 per night, after upgrades, for three nights in a Bermuda hotel.

    "The top administrator, the new administrator, the chairman of the board -- they don't think there's anything wrong here?" said Fasano.

    Citizens emphasizes that its business requires international travel to meet foreign re-insurers.

    They estimate that Binnun's negotiations during that April travel may've saved $47 million in bonding and re-insurance costs.

    Fasano asked the governor to hold a hearing on this issue even as its new administrator has promised a full review of travel expenditures.

    He notes Citizens routinely spends less on travel than it budgets.

    READ: Citizens response to Fasano claims

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