May 22, 2018

Knights of Columbus' top insurance exec retires suddenly

Photo | Christopher Hoffman
Photo | Christopher Hoffman
The Knights of Columbus headquarters at 1 Columbus Plaza, New Haven.

The executive in charge of Knights of Columbus' multibillion-dollar insurance arm has abruptly retired, according to an email sent to agents.

Chief Insurance Officer Thomas P. Smith Jr. informed Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson on May 11 that he was retiring effective immediately from his position and the Knights' board of directors, according to the May 14 email, a copy of which was obtained by New Haven Biz.

Kathleen Blomquist, Knights' senior director of corporate communications, confirmed Smith's retirement, declining further comment.

Smith, who received compensation totaling nearly $900,000 in 2016, according to the Knights' most recent tax filings, did not return a message left at his home.

In addition to its extensive charitable work, the New Haven-based Knights, the world's largest Catholic fraternal order, operates a multibillion-dollar tax-exempt insurance business that primarily sells life insurance to their members.

Smith had been with the Knights since 1974, Anderson said in the email to agents. He took over as head of the insurance operation in 2012, according to the email.

Anderson said in his email that Thomas Burkhard, senior vice president field management, and Ronald Franzluebbers, senior vice president and chief actuary, would assume Smith's duties on an interim basis. Anderson also will "appoint a committee of general agents to advise me as we proceed during the transition period," according to the email.

Smith's departure comes as the Knights face a bitter lawsuit filed by a jilted IT contractor alleging breach of contract, theft of trade secrets and a cover up of a large membership loss. The suit includes accusations that Smith failed to act when an agent told him of a "phantom" local council made up entirely of dead or long lapsed members and later helped get the agent fired. The Knights strongly deny all the suit's allegations.

Blomquist said Thursday that Smith's retirement is unrelated to the ligation.

The lawsuit, brought by UKnight Interactive of Boulder, Col., in that state, was stayed last month as UKnight seeks a new lawyer after its original attorney withdrew for health reasons, according to court records.

In March, U.S. District Court Judge R. Brooke Jackson allowed UKnight a limited look at the Knights' membership information as part of the firm's effort to prove its allegation of membership fraud. He also dismissed UKnight's racketeering claim against the Knights and the firm's challenge to the order's tax-exempt status. In addition, Jackson allowed the Knights to pursue a countersuit alleging UKnight executives violated their trademarks and illegally recorded phone conversations with order officials.

Christopher Hoffman can be reached at news@newhavenbiz.com

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