A Port Lavaca couple who said they were defrauded by a Farmers Insurance agent have a simple request for the company.
“Take responsibility for your name,” said Linda Bournias, 64. “You licensed him.”
More than a week after the arrest of Port Lavaca Farmers Insurance agent Paul Orta, 36, and his wife, Marisa Renee Orta, 37, the Bourniases made a startling discovery: In the middle of hurricane season, their $475,000 bayfront home was not insured for windstorm damage.
Despite handing the Ortas a $3,424 check in May for a year’s worth of coverage, the Bourniases said their money never made it to the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association. The Bourniases said instead, the Ortas established a post office box in their name to keep the Bourniases unaware of policy expiration notices. The couple said the Ortas also obtained a fraudulent loan in their names.
Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office officials said they have received at least 50 complaints from customers of the Ortas reporting fraud.
Victoria attorney Brent Dornburg, who is representing the Ortas, asked the public to reserve their judgment “until all the facts are in.”
“These are mere accusations,” he said. “They are looking forward to their day in court.”
Despite knowing about the sheriff’s office investigation for at least three weeks before the arrests, Farmers Insurance stayed silent and made no effort to contact clients about their potential lack of coverage.
Farmers did not respond to repeated phone calls and emails asking for comment.
If not for a July 25 Victoria Advocate story detailing the investigation, the Bourniases said they might never have learned their dream home was unprotected. John Bournias, a chemical plant worker, and Linda Bournias, a retired Victoria teacher, purchased the Lavaca Bay home in 2018 to be closer to their grandchildren.
Days earlier, sheriff’s officials advised county residents on Facebook about the fraud accusations and potential lapses in coverage.
That inaction by the big-name insurance company, they said, was extremely irresponsible.
“They are doing nothing,” Linda Bournias said about Farmers.
And the Bourniases said they soon realized they were hardly the only Orta customers experiencing insurance woes.
Days after their shocking discovery, the Bourniases said they were telling friends about what had happened while hosting a birthday party for their granddaughter.
A woman who had just purchased her first house that was not a mobile home realized she, too, had paid for windstorm insurance through the Ortas. Like the Bourniases, she, too, found her home was not covered.
Farmers had not contacted her either.
Chief Deputy Johnny Krause, of the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office, said Farmers is not legally required to contact customers about potential lapses in windstorm insurance because those policies are handled by the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association. But he also agreed such a notice would be the courteous step to take.
In 1971, the Texas Legislature founded the association in response to market conditions after Hurricane Celia. While the association provides windstorm coverage to customers independently of private insurance companies, customers are nevertheless required to purchase it through a licensed agent.
But it wasn’t just the lack of notice from Farmers that irritated the Bourniases.
For one, Farmers has not refunded the windstorm payment check the Bourniases said was paid to the Ortas.
Although the Bourniases said they were quick to shell out more money for windstorm coverage through another agent, they consider themselves lucky to have the means to do so.
The woman who had learned about the Ortas’ arrests at the birthday party was one such person who could not easily come up with the thousands of dollars necessary to obtain coverage.
“There’s some guilt that I feel,” John Bournias said. “I was able to go cut somebody a check the next day to protect my assets. Some of those people can’t. How is that OK?”
They also wondered why the company even allowed Paul Orta to serve as a representative and agent for Farmers.
In 2005, Orta was accused of theft of stolen property between $500 and $1,500, although prosecutors ultimately abandoned the case. Two years later, he was convicted for issuing a bad check.
In 2006, Orta’s wife, Marisa Renee Orta, was convicted of theft of property between $20,000 and $100,000 and was given 10 years’ probation and ordered to pay $22,932.80 in restitution.
According to the Texas Department of Banking, Orta embezzled $22,932.80 from Prosperity Bank in Victoria, where she was working as a teller. She stole cash from the vault, ATM cash cassettes and unused drawers and was barred from working for a state bank or trust company but not for insurance agencies.
Although it’s unclear whether Marisa Renee Orta was an official employee at the agency, the Bourniases said they dealt with her and never even met Paul Orta. They said they were impressed by the wife’s helpfulness but noted many instances of “sloppiness.”
Marisa Renee Orta was also the one who deposited their windstorm insurance payment check into a TDECU account, they said.
If Paul Orta were an independent agent or lacked the backing of a big-name provider, John Bournias said he would have gone to another agency.
“That’s the only reason,” John Bournias said. “I’d have to go with name-brand” insurance.
After all, trust is essential when it comes to insurance, the Bourniases said, and they trusted Farmers to do the right thing.
“The biggest asset you’ll ever have is your house,” said John Bournias.
“I will never trust Farmers again,” said Linda Bournias.