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MetLife deal is approved by U.S. judge

After months of legal wrangling, a federal judge Tuesday approved a settlement between Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. and customers duped into buying life insurance they didn't want.

MetLife could pay up to $76-million in refunds to more than 20,000 customers, but the company expects the payout will be closer to $30-million.

With U.S. District Court Judge Steven Mayberry's approval Tuesday, MetLife should begin sending refund checks within 60 days to customers who qualify under a class-action lawsuit filed last year in Tampa.

"This is it," said Ron Parry, a Kentucky attorney for the policyholders. "What this does is tell class members or potential class members that if their claims forms are in proper order . . . they can expect a check in the mail."

MetLife earlier this year sent notices to 70,000 customers it suspected could have been misled into buying life insurance they didn't want or need. About 20,000 were qualified under the class.

For MetLife, the settlement is the beginning of the end to a corporate nightmare that began when Florida's Insurance Department began investigating the company's Tampa district sales office for illegal sales practices.

The investigation spread to other states, ultimately resulting in more than $20-million in regulatory fines against one of the country's biggest insurance companies.

Charles Sahner, corporate spokesman for MetLife, had little to say about the settlement Tuesday.

"We're pleased with the judge's decision," he said.