Caremark ( CMX) could get burned -- again -- in the Sunshine State. The company has sent a well-placed Florida official on expensive trips that may have violated the state's rigid ethics code, according to a lawsuit against Caremark. The company paid for Richard Barnum, the bureau chief over Florida's Division of State Group Insurance, to make three business trips as a member of its select advisory committee, court papers filed on Thursday claim. Barnum stayed at fancy hotels -- including the Ritz-Carlton and Four Seasons -- during the all-expense-paid junkets, the filing adds. John Kuczwanski, a spokesman for the agency where Barnum works, told TheStreet.com on Thursday that the department is "taking a close look" at the situation to determine whether Barnum violated any rules. He admitted that the state's official ethics code "goes much further" than most ethics laws actually do. But he also stressed that Barnum's trips were "definitely work-related" and, therefore, beneficial to the state. The governor's office, which implemented the ethics code five years ago, said it had just learned of Barnum's trips but plans to investigate whether they violated the state's "very strict" ethics policy. To be sure, Caremark critics see a possible conflict. Thursday's filing describes Caremark's actions as "an apparent attempt to curry favor with the state of Florida" through an official who "possessed and exercised certain policy, supervision and administrative functions with respect to the approximately one-half billion dollar contract" between the two parties. It seeks to unseal the entire deposition of the division head as part of a big whistleblower lawsuit against the company. "The only conceivable reason
why Caremark would not want this testimony to be disclosed is to shield Caremark from public scrutiny and criticism," states the filing, prepared by Chicago attorney Michael Leonard. "That is not the function of the judicial system." Caremark spokesman Gerard Carney described as "preposterous" any allegations that the company offered Barnum an advisory seat to win favors from the state of Florida. He said the special board, populated by representatives of just 12 of its many customers, is instead designed to provide "valuable feedback and information" so that Caremark can meet the clinical and financial needs of its clients. He also portrayed the advisory board meetings as "intensive working sessions" instead of mere vacations. Meanwhile, the company has already portrayed the entire whistleblower lawsuit as baseless and denied any wrongdoing. Caremark's stock, a favorite among analysts despite the company's legal woes, inched up 4 cents to $32 on Thursday.