Acadiana Business

Former Citizens chief gets 30 months for theft

by Leslie Turk

Terry Lisotta, the former CEO of Citizens Insurance, the state's property insurer of last resort, pled guilty to one count of felony theft by fraud over $500 and will be sentenced April 23 to 30 months at hard labor by Judge Richard Anderson of the 19th JDC in Baton Rouge.

He was head of the state's property insurer of last resort in March 2004 when he spent more than $1,000 at Sam's Club in New Orleans for soft drinks, beer, chips, meat, condiments, paper plates and towels - all of which appears to have gone toward a prom party for his daughter. Two years later, May 25-27, 2006, he went to Destin, Fla., and stayed at the Hilton Sandestin for three nights. His expense report states the Reinsurance Association of America convention as the purpose for his business, and his calendar showed both RAA and the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of Louisiana convention. His hotel reservation had this comment: "does not want anyone to know he's here."

The Hilton Sandestin confirmed that neither RAA nor IIABL held a convention at the Hilton on those dates in May 2006.

Yesterday it all caught up with him. Terry Lisotta, the former CEO of Citizens Insurance, created by the Legislature in 2003 as a nonprofit corporation to provide property insurance for those who can't otherwise get it, pled guilty to one count of felony theft by fraud over $500 and will be sentenced April 23 to 30 months at hard labor by Judge Richard Anderson of the 19th JDC in Baton Rouge. Lisotta was apologetic Monday when he admitted he fraudulently spent about $30,000 of Citizens' money on quail hunts, LSU and Zephyrs tickets, hotel rooms during Mardi Gras, plane tickets for his wife and daughter and spa treatments.

Lisotta was CEO until spring 2007. Since his 2008 indictment, he has maintained that his spending was approved by the governing boards of Citizens; the Louisiana Automobile Insurance Plan, the state's high-risk auto pool; and the Property Insurance Association of Louisiana, which acted as the third-party administrator for both.

The Louisiana Code of Criminal Procedure allows the state attorney general to charge an embezzlement scheme, such as Lisotta's, by either multiple counts corresponding to each individual act of theft, or by a single omnibus count encompassing all fraudulent acts within the entire scheme. Lisotta pled guilty to an omnibus theft count, which extends the dates of his criminal acts past those contained within the original indictment and includes all illegal actions on which the 14 separate counts of the original indictment are premised. Among the acts of theft to which Lisotta pled guilty:

February 2004 - Lisotta bought plane tickets for his wife (Sandra) to travel with him to New York and Bermuda prior to his attending an insurance conference in Europe. He charged his wife's tickets, $1,219, on his LAIP credit card and did not reimburse LAIP.

March 2004, and December 2004 -  Two expense reports totalling $1,506 were submitted by Lisotta for quail hunts at Bon Amis Hunting Club in Ville Platte. All of the attendees at the hunts were state employees connected to Citizens/LAIP/PIAL. The AG noted that there was no legitimate reason for business to be conducted on quail hunts.

July 2004 - He submitted an $850 expense report for 100 Zephyrs baseball tickets, and supporting documents attached to report show that tickets were bought to help Rachel Lisotta meet her cheerleading squad fundraising goal of selling 200 tickets.

Marcy 2006 - Lisotta and his girlfriend, Caryl Mathes, CFO of Citizens, flew to Europe on business. Each ticket cost $6,036.10 and was for first class or business class. The state rate was $1,036, and PIAL travel policy allowed only for coach tickets. Lisotta only put his ticket on expense report, not Mathes', although he paid for both tickets (his ticket paid by his LAIP card, Mathes' ticket paid by his PIAL card).