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Regulators open probes, Warren Buffett dumps stock as claims of abuse and fraud mount against a top Globe Life agency

Susan Antilla   

Regulators open probes, Warren Buffett dumps stock as claims of abuse and fraud mount against a top Globe Life agency

After an Insider investigation, three more women have come forward claiming sexual assault or coercion at Arias. The agency also received a surprise visit from regulators.

In the months since Insider published an investigation into alleged sexual assault, drug use, and customer abuses at a major insurance agency based in Wexford, Pennsylvania, federal and state officials have inquired about potential wrongdoing at the company, which was known until recently as Arias Agencies. Insurance regulators showed up unannounced at the company's Wexford headquarters asking to speak with its owner, Simon Arias. And Warren Buffett, whose Berkshire Hathaway owned 6.35 million shares of Arias' parent company, Globe Life, at the end of March, has dumped more than half of his investment.

Meanwhile, two more women have come forward to say that male colleagues sexually assaulted them. A third former agent has told Insider that a star Arias manager offered to pay her to touch him.

The new probes and allegations add to a growing body of evidence suggesting that the troubled insurance agency — a top performer among the S&P 500-listed Globe Life Inc.'s network of agencies — may have tolerated customer abuses and a nightmarish environment of sexual harassment of female agents for years.

The agency has shuttered eight of its 21 offices since Insider published its investigation and is operating under a new name, Globe Life American Income Division: Arias Organization.

Trina Orlando, an Arias spokesperson, said that Arias closed the offices because "many independent contractors are working remotely" in a post-COVID world; the agency, she said, continues to "evaluate the need for physical office space" as lease terms expire. She said the name change "had nothing to do with pending litigation or the Insider articles and was not specific to Arias Agency."

Multiple inquiries underway

Insider has spoken with four former Arias agents who said a Pennsylvania Department of Insurance investigator questioned them about the company's culture and indicated that the department was looking into whether the company had defrauded its customers. One said the investigator, Michelle Billotte, asked about "company culture and sexual harassment." Another said they spent more than three hours in March speaking with Billotte, who asked whether the former agent had witnessed insurance fraud or unethical practices at the agency.

"It sounded as though she had spoken to multiple people by the line of questioning," the former agent said.

Billotte told Insider she can't discuss department investigations. Orlando, the Arias spokesperson, said by email in early June that she "had no knowledge of any probes."

But asked on August 10 if she'd been contacted since then by any regulatory authorities, Orlando confirmed that the Department of Insurance visited the company's Wexford headquarters this summer. "Nothing was seized from the office," she said, "and Arias Agency cooperated fully in responding to the inquiries of the Department that day. Mr. Arias, who was not in the Wexford office at the time, voluntarily spoke with the Department on a subsequent date."

Two sources told Insider that a representative of the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General was also asking questions about Arias. One, a former agent, said he spoke with William McKee, an investigator in the office's insurance-fraud section, about Arias agents who had increased customers' premiums by adding coverage without their knowledge. The former agent said he also shared information about colleagues who would drum up extra commissions by using phony names to write policies for people who didn't exist.

Five other current or former agents confirmed to Insider that some Arias agents wrote up policies in the names of fictional people or people who were dead.

Both McKee and Brett Hambright, the press secretary for the Pennsylvania AG's office, declined to comment.

Amy Williamson, an attorney who represents dozens of current and former Arias agents in civil claims, said she received an inquiry from a US attorney's office. And a workplace investigator hired by AIL has sought interviews with multiple agents regarding previously unreported allegations of sexual misconduct by an Arias manager in Morgantown, West Virginia.

'Everybody talked about it'

Arias exclusively sells the life-insurance products of American Income Life, a wholly owned subsidiary of the publicly traded company Globe Life, and is one of AIL's top producers. Globe Life is best known for having the naming rights to the Texas Rangers' Globe Life Field and is the official life-insurance company of the Dallas Cowboys. Berkshire Hathaway, the company's marquee investor, recently slashed its stake in Globe Life from 6.35 million to 2.52 million shares. A spokesperson for Berkshire Hathaway forwarded Insider's queries about the decision to Buffett's office, which did not respond.

Insider previously detailed the stories of two women at Arias who said that male colleagues assaulted them. One of them, Renee Zinsky, filed suit in federal court last year against AIL, the Arias Organization, its founder, Simon Arias, and her boss at the agency, Michael Russin, among others, alleging a pattern of sexual harassment and sexual assault. Her case against Russin remains in court; her case against the other defendants moved to arbitration. Both cases are pending; in a response filed in court, Russin denied Zinsky's allegations.

A former manager at AIL, which supplies insurance products to Arias and other sales agencies, said he heard chatter at headquarters that Russin was a sexual harasser while he worked there. "Everybody talked about it," he said.

The manager described a meeting that took place several weeks after Insider's investigation was published, where a top executive directed his vice presidents to tell agency owners to stop doing business with Russin. Although AIL had fired Russin by that time, according to Zinsky's complaint, many agencies were still using him as a recruiting consultant, the manager said. At least one recruitment video still featured Russin this month, a year and a half after the complaint indicates he was terminated.

Jennifer Haworth, the executive vice president and chief marketing officer at Globe Life, declined to comment on the manager's statements. Russin's lawyer, Benjamin Webb, did not respond to queries.

As the inquiries unfolded, AIL tightened the rules to prevent customer abuse, according to documents Insider has reviewed. The company informed agents by email that starting June 1, they could no longer use signatures executed during a Zoom call where an agent can sign for a customer. The new policy requires agents to use DocuSign, where clients receive an email link to sign documents electronically. Insider has spoken to seven current and former Arias agents who said they were aware of signatures being forged at the agency in the past.

Chris Williams, who sent the staff email, did not respond to a request for comment.

Natalie Price, the executive assistant to Simon Arias, sent an email marked "MUST READ" to agency workers on June 19, advising them that the use of robo dialers, automatic dialers, and third-party calling systems were "strictly prohibited," effective immediately. Failure to comply, the email said, could result in termination.

Orlando, the Arias spokesperson, said the decision to require DocuSign was issued by AIL and was "not specific to Arias," which has "no knowledge" of agents forging customers' names. Arias has reminded agents of the robocall policy "multiple times over the years," she said; she described Price's June email as a "friendly reminder."

On August 17, American Income Life's former vice president of field operations, Scott Dehning, sued AIL and parent Globe Life, saying he was wrongfully dismissed after reporting "numerous instances of unethical and potentially illegal business practices" at AIL and Globe Life. Dehning, an 11-year veteran of the company, said in his complaint that the executive-management team, including AIL CEO Steven Greer, would "ignore, cover up or otherwise conceal the unethical and potentially illegal sales practices."

He also alleged that Globe Life's general counsel, Joel Scarborough, told him in November 2022 to "stop talking to your friend(s)," which he understood to mean Michigan state insurance investigators who were looking into AIL and Globe Life. After that, Dehning said in his complaint, executives began to ignore him in meetings; he said he was fired on May 19 of this year.

Haworth said by email that AIL "takes seriously any allegations brought to its attention concerning sexual harassment, inappropriate conduct, or unethical business practices, and makes it clear that we do not tolerate such behavior." She said independent sales agents "are subject to contract termination if they engage in misconduct."

With regard to Insider's specific questions about Globe, AIL, and Arias, she said, "It is the Company's policy not to comment." She did not respond to a subsequent query about Dehning's lawsuit; neither did Greer or Scarborough.

An anonymous assault victim comes forward

Zinsky previously told Insider that Russin would take her out in his car and force her to watch him masturbate, an allegation he denied in court filings. A second woman, Abeni Mayfield, also alleged sexual assault; she had requested anonymity for Insider's previous coverage but has now decided to speak on the record.

"The truth is the truth," she said. "Why are we protecting these people?"

Mayfield said she was sexually assaulted in May 2019 by an Arias agent at a Las Vegas convention sponsored by AIL. She told Insider that when she was in a pool at Caesars Palace, a male colleague assaulted her and digitally penetrated her. She begged him to stop, but "he laughed it off and told me to chill out and proceeded to assault me." She reported the assault to three supervisors, but there was no follow-up, she said. She later filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Mayfield said she reported the incident to the master general agent for her office in Columbia, Maryland, the day after the attack. She recalled describing the incident to him as a "sexual assault" and asking who she could contact in HR. She said he told her there was no HR office and she should keep the incident to herself. "He said, 'You don't want to ruin this kid's future. Did you have too much to drink?,'" she recalled.

The master general agent did not respond to requests for comment.

Orlando said Mayfield's recollection of her conversation with the master general agent is "totally untrue," adding that "to our knowledge," Mayfield did not report the alleged incident to anyone at the agency. But Insider has seen the complaint Mayfield filed with the EEOC in May 2022, several months after she left Arias; it says that she reported the incident to multiple Arias managers right away. EEOC complaints are shared with the employer within 10 days of being filed.

'You are gonna give me a blow job'

Now, three more women who worked at Arias have come forward to Insider with new allegations of sexual assault and coercion in the workplace. One was fresh out of college and had only been at Arias' Wexford office for several months when she and some colleagues went for drinks at a local bar in 2018. Afterward, the group migrated to one of the agent's homes, where, she said, one Arias agent sexually assaulted her while others looked on.

"It took a long time to get past that," she said.

Insider spoke with one of the woman's male colleagues, who said she told him soon after the incident occurred that she'd been sexually assaulted that night. "I was one of the only normal people there, so it helped that she could talk to me," he said.

Another woman told Insider that during her first week of work in the Wexford office in 2018, she was in her boss' car in between sales calls when he pushed her face into his crotch — just as Zinsky claimed Russin had done to her.

"He said, 'You are gonna give me a blow job or we are not gonna go back home,'" she recalled. The same scene repeated itself during sales calls in the field the next day, she said, and this time, he was openly drinking and swerving on the road. She refused to get in a car with him after that and alerted a manager.

The woman said it had been a long time since she'd thought about the assaults, but she decided to come forward after Zinsky did. "You get Stockholm syndrome when you are there," she said, and abusive behavior starts to look normal.

"There's nothing that happened to me that didn't happen to other girls," she said.

Her boss denied the allegations, telling Insider, "100% it's not true." But he has past convictions for public drinking and driving under the influence. And the woman's husband spoke to Insider, confirming her account. He said that his wife texted him the day of the first incident, saying that her boss had assaulted her and "tried to make me do oral."

"I was dumbfounded," he said. "I had met this man and shook his hand. There was never a thought in my mind about my wife getting sexually assaulted at work."

A third woman, Kailey Andrasko, who joined Russin's team just after she'd graduated from high school in 2018, has also come forward. In a May 30 affidavit shared with the parties to Zinsky's lawsuit but not filed in court, she said Russin "propositioned me for sexual favors in exchange for cash during the course and scope of our daily work."

In an interview, she said Russin suggested one day that she drive to his house to pick up her paycheck. On her way there, she said, Russin texted her to ask that she give him a hand job for $100. When she declined, he said he'd give her $200 to watch him masturbate. "I got my paycheck and bolted out the door," she said.

Andrasko's mother, who requested that her name not be used, said Kailey told both of her parents about the incident at the time. "You're so hysterically pissed off that someone did this to your child," she said. "As an 18-year-old, she was very innocent."

Orlando, the Arias spokeswoman, said "we have no knowledge" of Andrasko's account.

Williamson, the attorney, said three of her clients were contacted recently by a workplace investigator about alleged sexual misconduct by a manager in the Arias office in Morgantown, West Virginia, where they worked. Insider obtained correspondence between one Arias agent and Anne Hilbert of Employment Matters Counseling & Consulting, who was hired by AIL to conduct the inquiry. Hilbert and the manager did not respond to requests for comment.

Orlando said none of the three alleged incidents in 2018 were reported and the Arias Organization had no knowledge of them. She said "we are cooperating fully" with the Morgantown investigation.

She said that in the 15 years Arias has been in business, "there has never been a single incident of sexual assault reported to the Arias Organization that we are aware of until Ms. Zinsky filed her lawsuit" in April 2022. Simon Arias would never tolerate such behavior, she said.

However, in Mayfield's May 2022 EEOC report she claims that she "immediately" alerted three Arias managers about her sexual assault, which she said took place in 2019. In addition, in a January deposition, Zinsky says she reported Russin to Arias in August 2021, telling him Russin would take her for drives, pull into parking lots, and put her in "horrible situations." Zinsky later contacted an AIL senior vice president, Debbie Gamble, by email in November 2021, sparking an email exchange obtained by Insider.

Orlando said Arias does not typically comment on pending litigation but complained that Williamson, Zinsky's attorney, "has chosen to try these claims in the court of public opinion instead of through proper legal proceedings." She dismissed Zinsky's claims as "part of a carefully orchestrated public smear campaign designed to pressure the Arias Organization into a settlement. We will not stand for it."

"I wish I could be so clever to be able to orchestrate hundreds of Arias employees and upstanding community members approaching me with eerily similar complaints of sexual harassment, sexual assault, fraud, bribery, threats, violence, cover-ups, and other crimes," Williamson said. "But the reality is that the truth has a way of coming to light when people are no longer afraid to speak up."

A boss who expected inappropriate conduct

In two depositions filed with the court in May, Webb, Russin's attorney, repeatedly questions Zinsky about whether she herself engaged in sexual banter and behavior at the office. According to a transcript, Webb showed Zinsky two videos, one in which he says she appears to be "humping" a colleague at the office and another in which he says she appears to be gesturing at her crotch. He also asks her to read several sexually explicit texts Webb claims she had posted to a group office chat.

Zinsky testifies that the first video captured what was known in the office as a "callout," a ritual used to punish agents who didn't hit a quota of sales calls. She also testifies that she didn't recall sending any of the group texts, which were posted under another name. At various points, she says she now views her behavior in the videos as inappropriate office conduct, but she was expected to "cater to" expectations set by Russin.

"This was my first business job," she says in the deposition, "so how everything went on in there was what I knew a workplace should look like."

In an interview, Zinsky said she sometimes engaged in inappropriate conduct because Russin insisted on it, including the day she was told to hump her male colleague after failing to make the required number of phone calls.

"If you didn't act accordingly, your job was threatened," she said. "I would patronize him because I was and still am scared of him."

In a potential act of intimidation, Russin filed interrogatories on March 17 demanding that Williamson turn over the names of anyone she was aware of who had spoken to Insider. (Any responses from Williamson were not filed in court.)

Williamson said she was contacted by Jonathan Lusty, an assistant US attorney in Pittsburgh, on May 5. Lusty asked questions about Russin's campaign of aggressive social-media posts since Zinsky filed suit, Williamson said, including posts about his gun purchases. Lusty did not respond to requests for comment.

In April, Williamson filed a motion for contempt against Russin related to the intimidating posts. He does not name Zinsky in them, but Williamson and Zinsky said they believe many of his threats were aimed at them and their witnesses, and the posts sometimes appeared in the wake of legal filings. On June 8, Russin posted an episode of his podcast in which he talked, yet again, about being armed.

"Just so you haters know," he said, "I'm always strapped. And I keep one in the chamber, too."

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