Saturday, January 26, 2008

Ex-WellPoint Exec Accused of Womanizing

INDIANAPOLIS -- David Colby was one of corporate America's most admired executives before he was abruptly fired last spring for what was vaguely described at the time as misconduct of a "non-business nature." Now details about his personal life are spilling out, and it's clear he was more than just Wall Street's darling.

In a cluster of lawsuits gathered up by The Associated Press, the former chief financial officer of health insurance giant WellPoint Inc. is depicted as a corporate Casanova _ a world-class, love-'em-and-leave-'em sort of guy who romanced dozens of women around the country simultaneously, made them extravagant promises and then went back on his word with all the compassion of a health insurance company denying a claim.

One woman says Colby got her pregnant and harangued her via text message ("ABORT!!") to terminate the pregnancy. He also allegedly gave some of his girlfriends sexually transmitted diseases, and proposed to at least 12 women since 2005.

The allegations are contained in lawsuits filed before and after Colby's departure by three women who say they were ill-used by the businessman.

Colby and his attorneys have refused to comment, though in court papers he has disputed some of the allegations, and one of the lawsuits was thrown out a few months ago by a judge who found insufficient grounds for legal action.

By all accounts, the 54-year-old Colby _ a pudgy, bespectacled figure with salt-and-pepper hair _ charmed attractive women by showering them with compliments and gifts. While at least one of his accusers was a WellPoint underling, it appears he met many of the other women outside of work, via online dating sites, and he has not been accused of workplace sexual harassment.

"I'm not surprised that there are women who would come forward with the same story, because that appears to be Dave's modus operandi," said Mark Hathaway, a lawyer for two of the women who sued. "We've been contacted by a number of women."

His ouster is the latest, and perhaps the most lurid, in a string of cases in which corporate chieftains were bounced for alleged misbehavior outside the boardroom.

Last year, HBO's chief executive was forced out after being charged with throttling his girlfriend. Before that, a Boeing CEO lost his job after admitting to an affair with a female underling.

"There's no question companies are much more sensitive to ethical conduct on the part of their executives," W. Michael Hoffman, executive director for the Center for Business Ethics at Bentley College in Waltham, Mass., said after Colby's ouster.

It was Colby who helped put together the $16.4 billion deal that created Indianapolis-based WellPoint in 2004. He was named best CFO in managed care for four years in a row by Institutional Investor magazine. Stockholders and Wall Street professionals saw the Columbia University graduate as someone who "gave it to you straight," said stock analyst Thomas Carroll.

"He would give you the good news along with the bad news," Carroll said. "If he said something, you could really hang your hat on it."