Florida Insurance Agent Sentenced to 14 Years for Premium Fraud

April 17, 2023 by

More than 18 months after he pleaded guilty to absconding with almost $5 million in premiums, a Florida insurance agent has been sentenced to 14 years in prison.

John M. Thomas, 52, the former owner of Thomas Insurance agency in Pensacola, also must pay more than $8 million in restitution, a federal judge decided in March.

For more than seven years, Thomas collected premium payments from at least 67 clients, then produced fraudulent policy documents and certificates purporting to show that clients were covered. Thomas used the money for personal gain, including an African safari, a Utah ski resort condominium, a Florida beach condo, a Lexus automobile and restorations to a 45-year-old Jeep vehicle, according to his 2021 indictment.

The independent agency sold homeowners, commercial property, commercial liability, auto, workers’ compensation and other lines of insurance to some well-known commercial interests in Florida and Alabama before the fraud was discovered, attorneys said.

“It appears that he was well connected with the country club set, some of whom he was taking money from,” said Craig Rettig in 2021.

Rettig is a Pensacola plaintiffs’ attorney who filed suit against Thomas on behalf of some commercial property owners who said they were defrauded.

By failing to secure actual insurance policies, some clients lost more than $2 million in unpaid hurricane, fire and liability claims, federal prosecutors said.

After the allegations came to light in 2021, more than 15 former clients filed complaints or lawsuits against Thomas. Pensacola Beach Properties Inc. suffered damage to multiple buildings when Hurricane Sally hit the Pensacola area.

Thomas was arrested then unexpectedly pleaded guilty to the criminal charges in August of 2021. His sentencing was set for later that year. Prosecutors did not say why the sentencing had to wait for another 18 months, but court records suggest that Thomas’ pro se filings with the court may have delayed the proceedings.

“Today’s sentencing should serve as a warning to anyone who uses illegal means and criminal behavior to take advantage of others,” said Sherri Onks, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Jacksonville Division.