Joe Nelson and Sandra Emerson, Staff Writers
Created: 10/22/2010 09:49:48 PM PDT

San Bernardino County Supervisor Paul Biane’s frequent trips to Mexico in his county-issued vehicle prompted the county to purchase a blanket auto insurance policy covering all county employees who travel south of the border, officials said Friday.

Laurie Milhiser, the county’s former director of risk management, said she became aware about two years ago that Biane was driving his county-issued vehicle to Mexico, where his family owns a vacation home about 40 miles south of Ensenada, and was purchasing auto insurance policies at the border.

She said she decided it would be better to find a reputable insurance company and purchase a comprehensive policy that would cover all county employees needing to travel to Mexico.

“Now, anytime someone has to leave the country – if the sheriff has to go to Mexico to pick up a suspect or if Child Protective Services needs to go there to drop off a child, they’re covered,” Milhiser said Friday.

Prior to that, Biane would bring copies of the Mexican insurance policies he had purchased at the border to Milhiser for reimbursement, said Milhiser, who now works as Los Angeles County’s risk management director.

“Paul purchased it and got reimbursed for it, and that’s when I became aware of it and decided we should do a better job of managing purchased insurance,” Milhiser said.

Biane denies having ever sought reimbursement from the county for Mexican insurance he purchased.

“Whether it was me or anybody else going to Mexico, the county needed this insurance policy,” Biane said.

A policy from the Mexican insurance company MAPFRE Tepeyac for the period Oct. 13, 2007, through Oct. 12, 2008, lists Biane, his wife, Lea, and the county as the insured parties. Biane’s county-issued 2007 GMC Yukon Denali was listed as the insured vehicle.

County spokesman David Wert said that was an individual policy Biane had purchased near the border, prior to the county’s blanket insurance policy being purchased.

The county’s blanket insurance policy covers all county vehicles and employees driving them in Mexico. The cost of last year’s policy was $1,673, Wert said.

According to county policy, county employees and elected officials are required to get clearance from the County Administrative Office before traveling outside the state in their county-issued vehicles for business-related purposes. They do not, however, need such clearance for personal trips.

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