California Fines Title Co. $750,000 For Kickbacks
By Steve Tuckey
National Underwriter News
April 22, 2005
The California Department of Insurance announced it has fined Stewart Title of California $750,000 and ordered it to pay $160,000 in costs for illegal rebating activity uncovered during a nearly three-year long investigation.
A settlement reached with San Diego-based company requires the firm to cease paying real estate agents in exchange for business referrals.
Regulators in both California and Colorado have been looking to what they refer to as "kickbacks" paid by title companies to real estate developers and others in exchange for business.
In March, Colorado reached a settlement agreement with First American Title in which the company agreed to rebate state consumers impacted by the practice.
According to Colorado authorities title companies have paid kickbacks in the form of premium payments for reinsurance that was purchased from captive operations operated by the firms that sent them business. The reinsurance was for business that involved virtually no risk regulators contend.
"Let this latest fine be a warning: we will find those companies who continue to pay kickbacks, and I will do everything in my power to see that they are punished for their actions," Commissioner John Garamendi said.
According to CDI press release, the investigation found that inducements Stewart gave to agents amounted to $594,102. They came in the form of business support services, providing gift certificates and door prizes for Realtor events, making rent payments, funding special events and sponsoring broker activities.
"The crimes took place in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Diego and San Bernardino counties," the department announced.
California's continuing investigation of title firms, the department said, is examining suspected kickbacks paid to captive reinsurance companies controlled by developers, lenders, builders and real estate firms.
"Evidence gathered has shown that as much as half of the premium consumers pay for title insurance is then paid by the title insurer to the captive reinsurance entity, ostensibly to induce the captive's owner to refer more business to the title insurer," the department said.