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MIDDLESEX, NJ—A health insurance broker reportedly caught up in a state pay-to-play probe has been dumped by one Middlesex County town where it had been considered for a municipal contract.
The Middlesex Borough Council named Alamo Insurance Group as its a risk management consultant for 2021 on February 9, opting not to hire Acrisure, the embattled Michigan-based firm that was up for appointment in January until the action got tabled.
The risk management appointment had been left unresolved for two meetings.
Council President James Eodice said members of the Middlesex governing body began having reservations about the hire after reading news reports of a state Attorney General’s investigation into public health contracts handled by Acrisure or its partners.
According to those reports, subpoenas do not name the firm or its partner agencies, but have sought documents related to contracts they handle in Plainfield and Bergen County.
“When you really dig into what happened in Plainfield, it’s subject to some serious red flags,” said Eodice, who looked into the matter further after reading the news reports. “A bunch of us on the council said we don’t want to be connected with that in any way.”
Acrisure served as Middlesex Borough risk manager in 2019. The town used a different firm last year, but was considering bringing Acrisure back after proposals were received from several firms for 2021.
Officials have said Acrisure provided exemplary service two years ago. Instead, the Middlesex council now plans to appoint Secaucus-based Alamo Insurance Group as risk manager.
Even though Acrisure did quality work in 2019, the council will not ignore word of the investigation, according to Eodice. To do so, he added, would “breed something down the road.”
Middlesex Mayor John Madden does not have a vote on the appointment, but supports the move planned by the Council. “They’re not going to tolerate situations like this,” Madden said.
Meanwhile, the state Attorney General’s Office is staying mum on the reported probe of pay-to-play in public health sector insurance contracts. Brokers are often appointed by Garden State government entities to help obtain cost-effective health insurance.
“Our policy is that we neither confirm nor deny investigations,” Peter Aseltine, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office replied on February 5 when contacted by New Brunswick Today.
The Attorney General’s Office is investigating the City of Plainfield’s employee health contract and the timing of certain political donations, according to a November report on NorthJersey.com. Reliance Insurance Group, a division of Acrisure, handles Plainfield’s health insurance contract.
Gary Taffet, a Democratic political insider and prolific campaign donor in Middlesex County, founded Reliance in 2006. It became an Acrisure “agency partner” seven years later.
As we reported, Taffet paid $725,000 to resolve an investigation by the federal Securities and Exchange Commission in 2005 after he resigned as Chief of Staff to Governor Jim McGreevey.
Taffet is one of several “insiders” and Acrisure employees who reportedly “pumped more than $100,000 worth of campaign donations to lawmakers dating back to 2015 and sometimes days before those lawmakers voted on awarding lucrative contracts to Acrisure,” according to WNYC’s Gothamist.
Bergen County’s health contract is another being probed. That contract is handled by a different Acrisure partner.
Subpoenas issued to Plainfield and Bergen have reportedly asked for records such as brokerage services contracts, quote requests and business disclosure forms.
A report by OurEdison.com said that Edison officials would not comment on whether municipal health insurance contracts there had been subpoenaed. Acrisure received a $242,000 contract in Edison January 2020 to provide risk management consulting services, according to the report.
Edison and Middlesex Borough are both members of the Central Jersey Joint Insurance Fund (CJJIF). That fund comprises a total of 13 towns that pool resources in an attempt to reduce insurance costs.
Middlesex Borough officials have not revealed how much Acrisure stood to be paid in 2021 to serve as risk manager, noting that the consultant’s cost would have been paid by the CJJIF.
While the Attorney General is reportedly focusing on political donations, that hasn’t prompted Acrisure representatives to completely shut down campaign contributions, according to the Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) records.
State Senator Nicholas Scutari, who represents the 22nd legislative district that includes Middlesex Borough and Plainfield, has received $5,050 in donations from Acrisure employees for his 2021 primary campaign, ELEC filings say.
That total includes a $500 donation from Acrisure employee Lou Beckerman last November and a total of $2,000 from Taffet from 2018-2020.
A journalist in Central Jersey for nearly four decades, Dave has won awards for news, education and opinion writing. Since 2017, he’s been a member of Friends of the Middlesex Taxpayers, a citizen’s group that has exposed corruption and waste in Middlesex Borough and promoted greater transparency.
Read Dave's blog Pundit at https://punditsdotblog.wordpress.com.