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Former CEO sues insurance firm for millions in pay, defamation

Craig Johnson had been CEO of FCCI since April 2011.

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  • | 3:30 p.m. December 16, 2020
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  • Manatee-Sarasota
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SARASOTA — Former FCCI Insurance Group CEO Craig Johnson, terminated from the insurance giant in May for his role in a battery on two police officers during an incident at a Sarasota restaurant, is suing the company and seeking more than $5 million in damages. 

In the lawsuit, filed in Sarasota County court Dec. 11, Johnson alleges Sarasota-based FCCI failed to pay him severance pay and benefits; vested performance units; and unpaid paid time off. He is also suing the company for defamation of character, alleging FCCI "engaged in the publication of false and defamatory statements about Plaintiff without reasonable care as to the truth or falsity of the statements resulting in actual damage to the plaintiff's reputation." 

According to the filing, Johnson alleges that pursuant to his employment agreement, he "should have been paid out a severance of $5,051,250.00, twelve (12) months of COBRA continuation and unused accrued PTO, for which he has not been paid."

When asked to comment on the lawsuit, FCCI shared a statement with the Business Observer. It reads, "We are in receipt of Mr. Johnson’s complaint and are currently reviewing the allegations." 

The company also says in a statement, "FCCI is committed to upholding its company values and conducting business with the highest standards of integrity, transparency, and accountability."

An attempt to reach Johnson went unreturned. Two calls to Johnson's attorney for the lawsuit, David Linesch of Palm Harbor-based The Linesch Firm, were also unreturned. 

On Dec. 7, Johnson entered a no contest plea to reduced charges for misdemeanor obstruction and misdemeanor assault on a law enforcement officer, according to Sarasota County court documents. A no contest plea is essentially conceding there is enough evidence to sustain the charges or accusations without admitting guilt. 

Johnson has been placed on misdemeanor probation for one year, documents show, and can apply for early termination of the probation in six months. The plea also includes 25 hours of community service and several other conditions, several of which Johnson has already completed.

Johnson, 52, was initially charged with two counts of battery on an officer; one count of resisting an officer: obstruction without violence; and one count of trespassing: failing to leave a property by owner. The charges stem from an incident that took place May 7 at Wicked Cantina, just north of downtown Sarasota.

That night, according to a probable cause affidavit filed with the Sarasota Police Department, owners and employees of the restaurant had asked Johnson and two people he was with to leave, “due to their high level of intoxication and that they were instigating arguments with other customers.”

Johnson continued to refuse to leave and became aggressive, the report states, and when police arrived he allegedly swung a closed fist at one officer, missing contact, and then shoved two officers. Johnson was taken to the ground and handcuffed, the affidavit states, and while being escorted to the vehicle he “began ranting about his personal relationship with Sarasota Sheriff (Tom) Knight and that officers would ‘pay.’"

“Johnson continued to rant,” the Sarasota Police affidavit states, “and stated to officers, ‘I’m going to knock you out and that officers ‘were responding like they were going to a black neighborhood.”

Craig Johnson had been CEO of FCCI since April 2011, leading the company on a decade-long growth surge. He was fired May 12. Longtime employee and executive Christina “Cina” Welch was named president and CEO of FCCI in June. FCCI was founded in 1959 and has $2.5 billion in assets. It posted $930.16 million in revenue in 2019.


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