FLA. DEPARTMENT TO PICK INVESTIGATOR FOR METLIFE'S INTERNAL SALES PROBE

FLA. DEPARTMENT TO PICK INVESTIGATOR FOR METLIFE'S INTERNAL SALES PROBE

Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. has agreed to allow Florida Insurance Commissioner Tom Gallagher to pick a third-party investigator to lead the company's probe into questionable sales tactics.

"In essence, they are allowing the Department of Insurance to take over their internal investigation," said Mr. Gallagher's spokeswoman Jill Chamberlin.Mr. Gallagher, who met with MetLife executives in New York on Wednesday, has accused the company's salespeople in Tampa of misrepresenting high- commission whole life policies as retirement plans or annuities and selling them to nurses and other health-care professionals nationwide.

Any further action taken by the state would be withheld until the third- party investigator issues a report, expected to be in about a month, state and company officials said.

MetLife, which acknowledged some policyholders may have been misled, has volunteered to refund premiums to the 18,000 people who bought insurance from that office. And it has ordered its national sales force to stop soliciting nurses and other health care professionals while the investigation continues.

"We're concerned others may have emulated this practice at other offices," said company spokesman Charles Sahner, who acknowledged insurance departments in Pennsylvania, Texas and North Carolina have contacted the company after receiving similar complaints.

"We sell trust, integrity. We sell a promise to people," Mr. Sahner said. ''We don't want anybody hurt financially. If people bought a whole life policy, they have a good product. But we want to make sure it was the product they intended to buy."

Mr. Gallagher has accused two MetLife managers in Tampa of forcing their 100 or so salespeople to misrepresent the policies - and themselves - or lose their jobs. He also said the company did nothing to stop it.

According to the insurance department, agents in the office selling life insurance to nurses were instructed to call themselves "nursing specialists" and use the word "deposit" instead of "premium."

In an official order, Mr. Gallagher has asked MetLife why he should not rescind or suspend its license to do business in Florida or discipline the company in another way.

MetLife had already announced it would send one of its senior executives to Tampa and hire two outside law firms to assist in the probe.

"We take this all very seriously," Mr. Sahner said. "If in fact these do prove to be true, we will take vigorous action."