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Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara has been under fire since 2019, when news media reported questionable campaign contributions from associates of Applied Underwriters, while Applied was under investigation by the CDI, and seeking approval of the sale of the company..

At that time, Lara reported $31,000 in contributions from Stephen Acunto and his wife, Carole. Acunto is president of CINN Group, a New York publishing and financial services firm. Acunto, who also has served as a spokesman for Applied Underwriters. The donations came on April 30 2019, one month before Applied Underwriters alerted the California Department of Insurance that the company was in the process of being sold.

Although news media discontinued following the story, Consumer Watchdog pursued the investigation with Freedom of Information Act requests. And the lawsuit provided evidence this month that Lara and top lieutenant Bryant Henley communicated with two former lawmakers representing a workers’ compensation insurer at the heart of a pay-to-play scandal.

A new declaration from former legislator-turned-lobbyist Rusty Areias confirms that Commissioner Lara and Special Counsel Bryant Henley were in contact with Mr. Areias and former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, Lara’s friend and political mentor. Nunez and Areias have emerged as central figures in the scandal following a lawsuit filed by Fabian Nunez’s former lobbying firm to collect a $2 million “success fee” from Applied Underwriters related to the sale of the company. The payment was to be made in exchange for Nunez and Areias’s successful efforts to protect a $60 million deposit.

The declaration of Mr. Areias was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court with a motion seeking to compel the Department to produce 200 internal communications regarding Consumer Watchdog’s public records requests. This Motion is scheduled for April 27, 2022 at 9:30 a.m. Department 86 of the Los Angeles Superior Court.