Tuttle: Meds caused compulsive gambling

Published 1:02 pm Monday, February 14, 2011

Former Freeborn County Commissioner Linda Tuttle claims a medication she was taking is responsible for her compulsive gambling habits that led to the diversion of $1 million from her business to pursue the addiction.

Tuttle plans to use this claim as her defense against alleged fraudulent actions in a federal lawsuit.

The lawsuit, filed in September by insurance company Cincinnati Specialty Underwriters, seeks a ruling in the U.S. District Court of Minnesota that would let Tuttle’s insurance company off the hook in having to defend her against several lawsuits stemming from the collapse of her business, Albert Lea Abstract Co.

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Tuttle, who is accused of diverting almost $1 million from her company to pursue a gambling addiction, was arrested in June after state and local police executed a search warrant at her business. She resigned from the county seat in August.

In a response filed in November to the lawsuit, Tuttle states she “began a course of medication as treatment for a medical condition. One of the side-effects of that medication is an increased risk of compulsive behavior, including compulsive gambling.”

Further hearings in the lawsuit are pending scheduling; however, a federal trial is set for May 1, 2012. Her lawyer in the case, Kenneth R. White of Mankato, said Friday the response also challenges the interpretation of the insurance policy and brings up aspects of Minnesota law regarding duties surrounding insurance claims.

“It’s a case we’re going to be working on for a while,” he said.

Her criminal-defense lawyer, Kevin O’Connor Green of Mankato, in a Jan. 20 interview said the medication was Requip, which treats restless leg syndrome with the drug ropinirole. In that interview, Green said a rare side effect is compulsive gambling, though he added it is not an excuse. He said she since has sought counseling.

According to the lawsuit, last July, following the closing of the business in June, Albert Lea Abstract forwarded many claims for coverage to Cincinnati, including the loss of $150,000 belonging to the Freeborn County Humane Society.

There are other claims stemming from lawsuits. The files say the very first lawsuit against Tuttle and Albert Lea Abstract — thus one cited frequently in this insurance case and included as an exhibit — came from Hollandale resident Carl Mondeel last July, whereby Tuttle’s company was the exchange coordinator for $258,000 from the sale of farmland to a partner. Mondeel’s case alleges Tuttle spent $256,500 of his money for her personal use.

In Cincinnati’s lawsuit against Tuttle, it says the company denied the coverage of the claims and said it did not need to provide legal defense for them either. It cited clauses in the policy that exclude coverage for “wrongful act,” “dishonest, criminal or malicious acts,” “expected or intended injury” and “known or prior injury.”

Just like how doctors have malpractice insurance, abstract and title companies have insurance for errors and omissions. Should the sale of a house falter for, say, the lack of a signature, the insurance handles the claim. Albert Lea Abstract Co. had $1 million errors and omissions policy with Cincinnati Specialty Underwriters.

In a nutshell, the lawsuit says the errors and omissions policy only covers claims that happen by mistake, not on purpose. Her response says the medication had an impact on her behavior and questions the policy language.

The insurance company asks the court to rule that it does not have to provide legal defenses for Tuttle or her business or to pay for the claims she filed.