What Became of IMA?

By Ramon G. McLeod
July 19, 2010

What Became of IMA?

By Ramon G. McLeod
July 19, 2010

In early March of this year, calls went out from Will Green, owner and founder of the International Massage Association (IMA), to at least two major players in the massage insurance industry. Green wanted to know whether there was any interest in buying the liability insurance business that IMA had begun in 1994.

Once a major insurer for the massage community, IMA at its peak boasted more than 30,000 members. But, by early 2010 the association had shrunk to no more than 15,000 members, sources familiar with the discussions said. Nevertheless, the company still appeared to be a viable business, these sources said.

But, these sources said, something was wrong.

While their stories varied on some of the details, all said that Green allegedly made a number of statements in meetings that pointed to a troubling issue: IMA was in financial straits. Both of the established companies would eventually pull out of the sales talks with Green. A third company, new to the insurance business at that time, also ended talks.

Green, despite repeated attempts and interview requests, has refused to discuss publicly what has happened to his company.

According to one of the sources, "The big question was 'why' come to us? ...Then I was told that (IMA's) insurance broker had resigned from the risk group."

An interview with the owner of the brokerage firm, Utah-based Stratus Insurance, Inc., confirmed that the relationship between the two businesses had been severed. Central to the breakup was a dispute over more than $500,000 that involved premiums for policies underwritten by Markel Insurance Company.

IMA members got their first inklings of serious problems on April 8, when a posting on the IMA Web site said that it could no longer offer new policies to members. Then, on June 21, an e-mail was sent to past and present members stating that the company had ceased selling insurance on April 22 because its insurance agent had resigned.

Earlier that month, the registration for a "risk purchasing group" called Health and Beauty Purchasing Group, was cancelled. Federal law requires registration in the states where such a group is expected to do business under those laws. The Health and Beauty Purchasing Group was formed to purchase insurance for IMA.

In an interview, Chicago-based attorney Daniel V. O'Leary said he cancelled the registration in June. He said he was brought in by Green and Stratus in 2009 to finish getting the group registered in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. When Stratus resigned as IMA's broker, that left the association without a broker to represent it. Green was unable to find a new broker quickly, O'Leary said, and without one, the purchasing group could not continue.

While unfamiliar with the financial situation at IMA, he said that a serious dispute had erupted between Green and Stratus. "There was a lot of 'he said, she said' going on at the time, and we decided to cancel the group," O'Leary said.

By late June, IMA had ceased selling insurance and members were told that the business had been turned over to the National Association of Massage Therapists, a non-profit company located in Virginia. Sources present at the meetings where Green discussed the sale of the business have said that Green told them he needed to sell as a direct result of more than $500,000 in member premiums that is central to a dispute with his former insurance broker.

Meanwhile, properties that Green owns in Warrenton, Va., including IMA headquarters, are currently $7,800 in arrears on property taxes, public records show. The headquarters building is also up for sale for $2 million.

While Green has refused to publicly describe the situation, the owner of the insurance brokerage firm, Bret VanLeeuven, said in an interview that his company, Stratus, "cancelled him, not the the other way around...He owes us close to seven figures." Sources have said that Stratus believes it is owed at least $800,000 from Green and IMA.

The relationship between Green and VanLeeuven began around 2004, VanLeeuven said. Stratus, like other insurance brokers of its type, acquires the policies that insure the premium payers from liability claims.

Two of the sources who were solicited by Green to buy IMA said that statements were made at their meetings that suggested that Stratus had failed to properly acquire policies in several of the years since 2004, an allegation that VanLeeuven strongly denies. "Every premium that was collected was passed on to the appropriate parties," he said. "Our business has been audited many times, we held up our part of the contract," he said.

"And the bottomline is that as far as Stratus is concerned, every claim that was made was paid. There have been no complaints about unpaid valid claims. Every state has some kind of insurance commission and I defy anyone to find a complaint made against us," he said.

Green has not responded to numerous requests for an interview about IMA's financial status. Written questions were sent as well and questions posed to him were these:

  1. Credible sources have said that the reason your business was put up for sale is a dispute over more than $500,000. What is the specific nature of the dispute and what became of this money?

  2. Why did your long-time insurance broker, Stratus Inc., of Utah, sever their business relationship with you in early 2010?

  3. Why did your last insurer stop issuing policies in April 2010 to new members?

Editor's Note: If you have had issues with either of IMA's insurance operations, please contact editorial@mpamedia.com.

Associate Editor Christie Bondurant contributed to this report.