Records show that Wallace’s travel costs steadily rose, hitting almost $21,000 last year before he resigned to join a Tampa insurance company. Wallace, who made $330,000, billed Citizens for meals with other Citizens executives, particularly Sumner, the $192,000-a-year general counsel. In September, the two shared a $137 dinner in Tallahassee followed by a $123 dinner in Orlando a few weeks later.
Both meals came at a time when Citizens claimed it needed drastic rate increases because of a surge in sinkhole claims.
Citizens executives also spent tens of thousands of dollars traveling to board meetings, held three or four times a year at hotels around Florida.
“The board’s belief is we need to make [meetings] accessible to policyholders,’’ Ashburn said.
But at a meeting at the Tampa Airport Marriott in April, regular policyholders were far outnumbered by the 28 people connected to Citizens — 13 employees, eight board members and seven special committee members. Most stayed at the Marriott for $119 a night, but Grady, the interim president, decamped for three nights to a $188 room at the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay.
Citizens executives also dined at such upscale restaurants as Armani’s and the Capital Grille in addition to enjoying two catered luncheons at the Marriott that cost a total of $9,248.
Including the lunches, Citizens spent $27,452 for two days of meetings in Tampa.
Whether in London or Tampa, Citizens executives typically rely on the same method of payment — the company credit card.
Nearly 250 Citizens employees, a fifth of the total workforce, carry corporate cards issued by American Express and Bank of America. From Jan. 1 to mid-July, Citizens paid nearly $1 million to cover charges on those cards.
Citizens’ policy forbids the use of company cards for personal expenses and says offenders are subject to discipline, even if they reimburse the company. Buying wine and liquor on corporate cards is also banned.
However, records show that Binnun charged $413 in personal expenses to her corporate card, including $139 for a rental car in January and a total of $265 for two visits to a Tallahassee hair salon. She reimbursed Citizens, though not always within the required 15 days.
Binnun and Wallace also charged alcohol. On one trip to New York, Binnun used her company card for a $260 bottle of wine. In London last year, Wallace’s $889 dinner tab for himself, Binnun, Gilroy and their spouses included $250 for wine. The executives later reimbursed Citizens.
According to Citizens’ records, only four employees have faced discipline for abusing credit card privileges since 2006. Three were fired or subsequently resigned while the fourth remained but lost card privileges.
Binnun and Wallace were not reprimanded. Charging personal expenses was an “honest mistake’’ that resulted from a habit of pulling out her company card so often for business, Binnun said.
Citizens officials insist the company has adequate safeguards to avoid paying for prohibited costs. They said credit card charges are checked against expenses submitted by employees. Discrepancies are flagged, and the employee is asked for an explanation.
Citizens’ new president, Barry Gilway, said he is reviewing all company expenses, including card use and travel. But he called travel a “very, very small part’’ of Citizens nearly $2 billion budget and said the benefits are “staggering’’ compared to the costs, which he defended.
“When you travel to Bermuda or London, you’re not going to find a $125 Marriott. They don’t exist,’’ he said.
Gilway said he is also looking at whether Citizens needs offices in three different Florida cities. “It would be foolish not to step back and ask, ‘Is that appropriate?’ ’’
Grady, Gilway’s predecessor, didn’t mention Citizens’ travel expenses as he criss-crossed Florida this spring to speak with newspaper editorial boards about the need to raise rates.
Instead, Grady reiterated the theme of fiscal disaster at Citizens if a major hurricane hit the state. He talked about expensive payouts for sinkhole claims.
For his meetings with The Tampa Bay Times and other news organizations, Grady hired a Naples limousine service to shuttle him around at a cost of $605 — billed to his company card.