FCCI Insurance Group Chairman, CEO and President Craig Johnson, while maintaining he believes he will be fully vindicated, is taking a leave of absence from the firm — three days after being arrested for alleged battery on a police officer.
FCCI Executive Vice President CFO Christopher Shoucair was named interim CEO and president, while board member and local construction executive Jack Cox was named interim board chair.
Johnson’s arrest stems from an incident at the Wicked Cantina, just north of downtown Sarasota, May 7. Johnson, 51, was charged with two counts of battery on an officer and related charges, including resisting arrest. The affidavit for probable cause filed by Sarasota police officers alleges, among other contentions, that Johnson swung a closed fist at one officer, missing contact, and then shoved two officers. At one point, officers say Johnson told officers they would “pay” because of his friendship with the Sarasota sheriff.
“Johnson continued to rant,” the Sarasota Police affidavit states at one point in the scuffle, “and stated to officers, ‘I’m going to knock you out,' and that officers ‘were responding like they were going to a black neighborhood.'"
In a May 10 letter emailed to FCCI board members and employees, Johnson says, in part, “I love my entire FCCI family and I'm truly sorry for the embarrassment and reputational harm inflicted.”
“I'm confident the truth will unfold as the process moves forward and I will be fully vindicated,” Johnson adds in the emailed letter, which was copied to Derek Byrd, a prominent Sarasota criminal defense attorney. “To that end, it will take a considerable amount of my time, energy, and focus. As such, I have asked the board to allow me to take the necessary time away from work to address the issue at hand. They graciously agreed.”
In a statement, provided to the Business Observer by Washington, D.C.-based crisis communications firm Levick, FCCI, separate from Johnson’s note, acknowledges the leave of absence.
“FCCI Insurance Group operates at the highest standards of integrity, transparency, and accountability. The board takes the recent allegations brought against Mr. Craig Johnson very seriously,” reads the statement. “The board immediately retained independent professional advisors to review and monitor the situation, and the board is committed to continuing to act in the best interests of FCCI and its policyholders. Mr. Johnson is taking a leave of absence from the company, its subsidiaries, affiliates and to avoid a distraction for the company while he responds to these allegations.”
The latest FCCI statement differs from a statement the company sent to the Business Observer May 8, the day after the arrest. In that statement, the company says Johnson “vehemently denies the allegations and expects to be fully vindicated from any wrongdoing. The board has spoken directly with Mr. Johnson and has accepted his denial. We anticipate that the factual underpinnings of the events will become more fully developed and established. We have no doubt in Mr. Johnson’s integrity and ability to lead the company."
The CEO of FCCI since April 2011, Johnson was charged in conjunction with two others including his son, according to police records of the incident. An affidavit for probable cause in his son’s arrest says the Wicked Cantina manager told police that the three subjects “started a verbal argument with guests that were sitting outside.” The suspects refused to leave, the manager told police, adding that all three “were extremely intoxicated and aggressive.” That’s when the manager called police for assistance.
In the probable cause affidavit for Johnson’s arrest, officers say Johnson kept resisting, falling to the ground to avoid being placed in the police car, and then refusing to “lift his feet into the vehicle in an attempt to stop the door from being closed.”
Johnson was 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. According to the Sarasota County Clerk’s office, Johnson posted $1,000 bond and was release May 8.
In his letter sent May 10 to FCCI employees, Johnson says the company formed an Executive Management Committee of the board to “oversee the affairs of the company in my absence.” That committee includes Cox, board member and former FCCI CEO G.W. Jacobs and Charles Baumann, an FCCI board member and longtime executive and shareholder with Sarasota accounting form Kerkering Barberio. “I will continue to offer my support, insight and guidance to the board and leadership to advance the priorities of our organization during this time,” Johnson writes.
“We have built such a strong company and an amazing leadership team that has my full support and confidence to carry us through this period,” he adds. “I so look forward to seeing each of you in the not too distant future and thank you again for not rushing to judgment and for allowing the facts to surface. Most importantly, please accept my most humble apology once again for the impact this has caused.”
Johnson, in his nearly decade at the helm of FCCI, has developed a reputation of being an approachable CEO, often holding coffee town halls and dressing up for Halloween skits. He recently held “corona with Craig” video meetings, updating the employees on the company’s pandemic response.
The company’s revenue has grown at least 60% under Johnson leadership, from $529 million in 2012 to nearly $850 million in 2018. Founded in 195 and now with agents in 19 states and Washington, D.C., the company has some 850 employees. It has often been recognized nationally and within the insurance sector as a top place to work by surveys, publications and organizations.