ATLANTA – Thousands of taxis and limousines are being pulled off Georgia streets because authorities say the companies who own them were sold millions of dollars in bogus insurance policies. A cease-and-desist order was issued against two businesses that allegedly sold the fake policies to more than 150 companies throughout the state. One of the owners of those businesses was arrested soon after.
State Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine said there's no way to avoid at least temporarily pulling off the road vehicles that are not legally insured – even when their owners thought they were obeying the law. "These are innocent victims; they wrote a check and paid the premiums," Oxendine said. "But once we notify them, they will be breaking the law if they continue to operate before they get insurance."
Oxendine said it will probably take three or four days to notify all the affected companies. About 70 of the roughly 150 that have already been identified are in the Atlanta area, he said, but companies in virtually all of Georgia's largest cities were affected.
Phoenix Brokers Inc. and Main Street Brokerage Inc., both located in Barnesville, allegedly collected nearly $3 million in fraudulent insurance premiums during the past two-and-a-half years.
Soon after the cease-and-desist order was issued, authorities arrested co-owner Robert Waterhouse at his home in Thomaston, Ga. An arrest warrant was issued for his father and co- owner, Godfrey Waterhouse. Both father and son are natives of New Zealand, Oxendine said.
Oxendine said the policies sold by the Waterhouses were supposedly from Mark Solofa Insurance Co., a legitimate insurer located in American Samoa. However, the premiums were never passed onto the insurer and neither agent had a contract to represent Mark Solofa Insurance, Oxendine said. The insurance commissioner's office seized computer records and other files during Tuesday's arrest.
Wayne Culbreth, co-owner of Luxury Atlanta Limousines based in Tucker, Ga., said his company was notified by the commissioner's office back in December that the insurance they had purchased from the Waterhouses was fake. The company was able to switch insurance for its four limousines and luxury sedans to a legitimate company and keep its fleet on the road, but "we had just renewed our insurance and, within 30 days, we had to switch and pay for it again," Culbreth said. "It's been three or four months and we're still getting over that."
Culbreth said he hopes his company, and others like it, will be able to recoup some of the money they lost. He said he's glad the bogus insurance has been made public now, hopefully helping other transport companies avoid disaster. "If something happens and you have no insurance, you lose everything you've got," Culbreth said. "I hope they get a whole lot of years."