Missouri title insurance agency closes, $1 million gone

April 25, 2005

Investigation launches after owner's disappearance

Inman News

At least $1 million is missing from a St. Charles, Mo., title insurance agency that shut down a week ago, the firm's former underwriter told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

James Thurman, owner of Phoenix Title Inc., disappeared last week; the Missouri Department of Insurance has launched an investigation; and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is looking into the matter, the Post-Dispatch reported.

No one knows what went wrong at Phoenix Title or another company owned by Thurman, James Andrew GMAC Real Estate, which is also shutting down, reports said.

As underwriter, Fidelity National Title Insurance Co. of Jacksonville, Fla., periodically audited Phoenix's books, reports said. But Phoenix rebuffed requests for audits last month and early this month, Peter Sadowski, executive vice president and general counsel of Fidelity's parent company, Fidelity National Financial Inc., told the Post-Dispatch.

On April 4, Fidelity canceled its underwriting contract, Sadowski told the Post-Dispatch.

Sadowski told the Post-Dispatch that "in excess" of $1 million is missing from Phoenix Title.

On April 12, Phoenix's backup underwriter, Guarantee Title Insurance Co. of Creve Coeur, Mo., terminated its contract with Phoenix, reports said. It's unclear whether Phoenix Title had another underwriter in place after that. Without an underwriter, Phoenix could not legally conduct business.

On April 13, Thurman announced to employees at Phoenix and James Andrew GMAC that he was selling the title agency, reports said. The buyers were to be Phoenix's operations manager, Rob Salyer, and general counsel, Timothy Humm, according to reports.

But the next day, the deal fell through, reports said.

A day later, April 15, Thurman shut down Phoenix Title, putting 50 to 60 people out of work, according to reports.

That same day, Thurman approached Joseph Riley, president of James Andrew GMAC, telling Riley "it was over," Riley told the Post-Dispatch.

"I have not seen him since. He's not returning my phone calls," Riley told the Post-Dispatch.

Later that morning, Thurman resigned from James Andrew GMAC, a company in which he is the sole shareholder, Riley told the Post-Dispatch, leaving a hand-scrawled note on the chief financial officer's door.

While some James Andrew GMAC offices remain open, it's only temporary, reports said.

Copyright 2005 Inman News

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