The head of the House Financial Services Committee is investigating alleged threats from title insurer LandAmerica against a Colorado insurance official who is conducting a probe against the company, Inman News has learned.

House Financial Services Committee Chairman Michael G. Oxley, R-Ohio, and Ranking Member Barney Frank, D-Mass., today released a letter sent to LandAmerica Financial Group “in response to testimony and evidence …

The head of the House Financial Services Committee is investigating alleged threats from title insurer LandAmerica against a Colorado insurance official who is conducting a probe against the company, Inman News has learned.

House Financial Services Committee Chairman Michael G. Oxley, R-Ohio, and Ranking Member Barney Frank, D-Mass., today released a letter sent to LandAmerica Financial Group “in response to testimony and evidence … that raised questions of indirect threats to limit Commissioner (Erin) Toll’s testimony and her involvement in a proposed State title insurance settlement,” senator’s office said.

Erin Toll, Colorado’s deputy insurance commissioner, in February 2005 investigated nine Colorado title insurers for alleged kickback schemes said to result in overcharges to consumers. The probe sparked dozens of investigations nationwide, in Florida, Washington, Hawaii, California, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Washington and other states.

Toll testified before the U.S. House Financial Services subcommittee April 26 in a hearing held to air mounting concerns about the title industry set in motion largely by her probe.

In today’s letter, Oxley and Frank say that during the hearing, “Title Insurance: Cost and Competition,” held before the Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity, “testimony from one of the witnesses raised the question of indirect threats or pressure on the part of a title insurance company in an apparent effort to limit or influence a proposed State title insurance settlement.”

Toll and LandAmerica are in the process of negotiating a settlement relating to the Colorado Insurance Commission’s probe of LandAmerica.

“The Committee has since received additional evidence corroborating this testimony,” the letter says.

The letter requests that LandAmerica provide Oxley with “all documents or records” including letters, memorandums or phone logs relating to Toll, “including but not limited to any conversations with any party about Ms. Toll,” and “a summary of any conversations within the last 12 months by LandAmerica … that referenced Ms. Toll.”

Peter Habenicht, a LandAmerica spokesman, said, “We respectfully disagree with the characterization and substance of the assertions made recently by Ms. Toll. LandAmerica has been and is committed to cooperating with all state regulators and we are working to achieve a resolution with the Colorado Department of Insurance and will willingly cooperate with the House Financial Services Committee.”

According to a May 15 letter from David Rivera, Colorado’s Commissioner of Insurance, released today to Inman News, LandAmerica contacted Rivera May 10 requesting that he recuse Toll from all regulatory matters involving title insurance, and in particular, LandAmerica, because of an alleged conflict of interest.

In his response, Rivera said that Toll had no conflict of interest. “I am deeply concerned that the personal attack on Ms. Toll is a smoke screen intended to distract attention from LandAmerica’s conduct,” Rivera said. “I have considered your charges and consider them to be groundless.”

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Send tips or a Letter to the Editor to janis@inman.com or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 140.

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