Grand Rapids company paid premiums, didn't get insurance
Don't tell Darlene Figgins that she and the Wolff Agency's other trucking clients weren't out any money by the agency owners' alleged misappropriation of funds.
For 10 years, she and her husband, Marvin, who own and operate Figgins Transport in Grand Rapids, paid out $250,000 for insurance coverage they didn't receive.
"We didn't lose any money because we never had a claim, but that's not the point," she said. "It came out of our operating budget. If it didn't go to insurance, we might as well have had it in our pockets."
Duane Wolff, 70, and his son, Douglas, 42, owners of the Hermantown insurance agency before it was taken over by Beacon Bank this month, are accused of mishandling more than $2.3 million. According to a Minnesota Commerce Department investigation, most of it stems from a program the Wolff Agency set up with Universal Premium Finance Corporation or UPAC to cover its trucking clients' full premiums. It allowed clients to pay their premiums directly to the Wolff Agency in smaller installments. The agency, in turn, was to pay back UPAC.
The Figgins had coverage through the Wolff Agency for about 15 years before they discovered something was very wrong.
That was in 2006, when one of their trailers was stolen in Canada. It had been one of 14 they had purchased in 1997 for a total of $300,000. They insured them all, adding to their existing coverage for their fleet of 30 trucks
When they sought to file a claim for the missing trailer, they were sent what they believed was a phoney insurance form. They discovered the trailer wasn't insured at all. None of their trailers were. Duane Wolff ended up sending them a check for $8,000 which he signed himself, Figgins said.
"He was really quick to send the money for that trailer," said Figgins who never dealt with Duane's son, Douglas. "He gave us names of insurance companies we were insured with that didn't exist."
She discovered more likely wrongdoing, including:
* Much of the $30,000 the Figgins paid in monthly premiums for all their trucks and trailers was not going to UPAC.
* While the Figgins were paying about $360,000 a year in premiums, Duane Wolff was getting twice as much, $685,000 from UPAC.
The Figgins' reported the matter to the Department of Commerce. That led to the investigation that led to Duane Wolff's license suspension, alleged civil violations against him and his son and the transfer of the agency's assets to Beacon Bank. An April 9 hearing before an administrative law judge in St. Paul will determine if the accusations are true and whether civil penalties should be imposed. Criminal charges also are possible in the case.
When investigators went to the Wolff Agency to get the Figgins' insurance file, Duane Wolff said he didn't know what happened to it. The file was later found in Wolff's refrigerator, according to Commerce Department documents.
"That was our file," Darlene Figgins said. "It was obviously in the freezer, because he didn't want anyone to find it."
Neither Duane Wolff nor Douglas Wolff could be reached for comment Sunday nor last week.
The experience has damaged the Figgins family -- physically, mentally and financially, Darlene Figgins says.
"We're just a small company in northern Minnesota," she said. "We have excellent delivery records. Our employees are happy. We never cheat anybody out of one red cent. We never did anything wrong and when this turned up, it was just devastating. We could hardly believe it."
After canceling their policies with the Wolff Agency in 2006, they never got their $51,000 deposit back from 20 years ago.
"It was a lot of money then; it still is," Figgins said.
Then the couple had to come up with $65,000 for a deposit on new insurance coverage with through another agent.
Now in their 70s, the couple had hoped to retire after operating their company for 30 years. But now they can't. Marvin Figgins, who has a 50-year, accident-free driving record, continues to drive trucks.
"It's just not fair," his wife said.