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Published August 26 2013

Hope mayor fined for giving insurance customers Vikings trips, dinners

HOPE, N.D. – This city’s mayor was recently fined $57,500 for illegally rebating customers of his insurance business with a trip to a Minnesota Vikings game and two customer appreciation dinners.

Gary Ihry, part owner of Ihry Insurance Agency Inc., will only have to pay $20,000 of the fine as long as he commits no other violations during a one-year conditional license period, according to the consent order signed by North Dakota Insurance Commissioner Adam Hamm.

State law prohibits insurance producers from giving customers rebates on insurance premiums or giving them a “gift, prize, promotional article, logo merchandise, meal or entertainment activity” if the retail value exceeds $50 per person, per year.

Through witness interviews and “hundreds” of pages of documentation, the Insurance Department determined that Ihry co-sponsored a trip to a Vikings game in December 2011 and that 21 of the 59 people who went were his insurance customers, according to the order filed in June.

The total bill for the trip was $21,384, of which Ihry paid $5,849, the order states. A Pioneer Seed business owned in part by his brother, Keith Ihry, covered the rest of the cost, it states.

Based on Gary Ihry’s share of the cost, each of his 21 customers received a $97.86 benefit from him, which is $47.86 above the $50 gift limit allowed under state law, the order states.

Dinner violations

In addition, Hamm’s office also found that the customer appreciation dinners held in 2010 and 2011 resulted in 554 violations, for a total of 575 violations, the order states. Ihry had no previous rebating violations, it states.

The 2010 dinner happened before a change in state law on Aug. 1, 2011, established the gift limit at $50. The change was sought by the insurance industry, and the department worked with the industry to draft the law to prohibit such gifts, Deputy Insurance Commissioner Rebecca Ternes said.

“It’s an unfair inducement,” she said.

Ihry did not return phone messages left at his office and on his cellphone Monday.

Ihry Insurance has offices in Devils Lake, Grand Forks, Hillsboro, Hope, McVille, Page, Towner, West Fargo and Mahnomen, Minn., according to the company’s website.

Hope is about 70 miles northwest of Fargo in Steele County.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528