Volume 2 Number 14
April 4, 2005










TEXT VERSION

The world witnessed the passing of a towering figure this past week. A spiritual leader to more than a billion faithful, Pope John Paul II will be remembered as one of the unsung heroes in bringing freedom to those countries behind the iron curtain during the Cold War and as a beloved agent for good in the modern world.

As the pontiff lay in state at the Vatican, leaders and worshippers from all faiths quietly remembered the pope who fought for the good of humanity and tirelessly worked for peace in the world.

Pope John Paul will be buried in St. Peter's Basilica this Friday, April 8, at 10 a.m.  The funeral is expected to draw as many as two million mourners to the Vatican, all driven by the charisma of the Pope who took his message to more nations than any other pontiff over the ages.  President Bush will be among nearly 200 world leaders to attend.

"It is love which converts hearts and gives peace," Pope John Paul wrote in his final service. "Lord, who with your death and Resurrection revealed the love of the Father, we believe in you and with faith we repeat to you today: 'Jesus I trust in you, have pity on us and on the entire world.' "

He will be missed, but we will not forget his lessons.

 

 

Gadsden, Florida's fifth county, was formed in 1823. It once ran from Georgia to the Gulf of Mexico, from the Suwannee River to the Apalachicola River. Quincy, the county seat, was incorporated in 1828. The courthouse, above, was built in 1912.
 




 

 

 

 

 


GALLAGHER, REP. CANNON PUSH FOR TOUGHER LAWS AGAINST INSURANCE FRAUD 

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher and State Representative Dean Cannon joined to urge support for legislation that would increase penalties for filing fraudulent auto crash reports that can be used to bilk insurance companies, strengthen consumers’ rights to sue operators of unauthorized insurance entities and enhance criminal charges for workers’ compensation fraud.     

Rep. Cannon and CFO Gallagher discuss PIP fraud at the press conference.


Cannon, R-Winter Park, and Sen. J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, are sponsoring companion bills.  Senate Bill 2330 is scheduled to be heard Tuesday by the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, and House Bill 967 is expected to be heard Wednesday by the House Insurance Committee.

The proposed legislation would impose a two-year minimum mandatory prison sentence for filing any police report on a fabricated auto accident.  It also would require medical clinics to post the department’s Fraud Buster hotline number and reward program information. 

Florida drivers are required by law to carry at least $10,000 in Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage, in addition to $10,000 in property damage liability coverage.

“This coverage is intended to protect our citizens by ensuring immediate access to medical care, and ensuring that hospitals – where most legitimate accident victims seek care – are reimbursed,” said Gallagher. “Instead, fake medical clinics are springing up for the sole purpose of fraudulently billing insurance companies.   We have to stop that and need the help of every law-abiding Floridian to do that.” 
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GALLAGHER PUSHES FOR LEGISLATION TO PROTECT INVESTORS FROM FRAUDULENT VIATICAL COMPANIES

Arlene Kaplan, a resident of Ft. Lauderdale getting ready to retire, lost more than $15,000 of her life savings after investing in the nation’s largest viatical settlement provider, Mutual Benefits Corporation, which was shut down last May by both state and federal regulators and is now being charged with investor fraud and racketeering.  Kaplan’s 85-year old mother was also bilked out of $20,000 by the same company.

Patrick Burke, a retired Army Lt. Colonel from Pensacola, was swindled out of $65, 000 by Lifetime Capital Inc., whose principals were convicted just last month of two dozen charges ranging from money laundering to mail fraud.  More than $120 million was misappropriated in this case.

 “Hundreds of Floridians who have invested their hard-earned money – sometimes their entire life savings – in viaticals have been financially devastated because of outright fraud or inadequate disclosures,” said Gallagher.  “Fraud will flourish in this industry if unethical companies aren’t stopped. We need to take aggressive steps to protect investors. CONTINUED


 

 


GALLAGHER SEEKS TO CLARIFY CONFUSION WITH STORM CLAIMS, OUTLINES OPTIONS TO HELP CONSUMERS

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher raised concerns with confusing policy language and recommended solutions for helping consumers navigate through their homeowners insurance policies and storm claims.   Gallagher also said he is turning over consumer complaints he has received on confusing policy language to the Office of Insurance Regulation for further review.

“Storm victims are dealing with a number of pressures – financial, family, work and more.  My goal is to alleviate some of the pressure by helping storm victims recover the insurance money due them to pay for losses,” said Gallagher.  “And to make sure there is no pattern of miscommunication to storm victims, I am turning over our consumer complaints to the Office of Insurance Regulation for further review.”

One such confusing situation deals with depreciation holdbacks. Gallagher said that Florida homeowners insurance policies contain a provision that entitles the policyholder to the full replacement cost for their home and contents without any depreciation for materials used.  But insurers can impose a holdback provision and initially pay a fractional or actual cash value amount, but they must explain the procedure for recovering the remainder of the costs of the loss. 

Homeowners who have replacement cost coverage will get the amount of money it costs to complete their repairs or to replace destroyed contents – minus what is referred to as recoverable depreciation.  If a homeowner did not refuse this coverage - in writing - when the policy was purchased, then the replacement cost coverage is automatically included.  CONTINUED



EIGHT ARRESTED ON CHARGES OF ILLEGALLY OBTAINING CRASH REPORTS THROUGHOUT THREE COUNTIES

Several posed as reporters to gain access to the reports

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher announced that investigators with the Department of Financial Services, Division of Insurance Fraud, and Florida Department of Law Enforcement have arrested eight individuals on charges of illegally obtaining traffic accident reports from police departments throughout Palm Beach, Broward and Dade counties.  Several posed as reporters to gain access to the reports.

The information was used to solicit accident victims to go to medical clinics and auto body shops for the purpose of collecting money on fraudulent auto insurance claims. The police departments involved are not suspected of any wrongdoing and supported the investigation.  In Florida, access to traffic accident reports is restricted during the first 60 days, and those who access the information cannot use or disclose the information for the purpose of solicitation. 

“This ongoing investigation indicates these individuals had no legitimate reason to possess the accident reports and that they intended to use the information to fraudulently bill insurance companies,” said Gallagher, who oversees the Department of Financial Services and Division of Insurance Fraud.  “I thank the investigators for working so hard to protect Floridians from the burden of this kind of fraud.”  CONTINUED
 




 

 

 

 

  

THURSDAY TOWN HALL MEETING TO BE HELD IN JUPITER

Due to overwhelming response at the five town hall meetings held so far, two additional town hall meetings have been scheduled. 

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher has announced dates and locations for the next town hall meetings to assist Floridians still recovering from last year’s hurricanes.  The first four meetings were held in Pensacola, Sebastian, Punta Gorda, Orlando and Fort Pierce. 

Jupiter and Bartow are the next scheduled locations. 

“Hurricane victims who are still struggling to settle insurance claims are urged to attend one of these meetings,” Gallagher said.  “We want to direct all available resources to getting storm victims’ lives back to normal.”

Gallagher will be accompanied by consumer specialists who will be able to work with policyholders individually.

CFO Tom Gallagher Town Hall Meetings

Thursday, April 7th,  5 p.m. - 8 p.m.
Jupiter Community Center, 210 Military Trail, Jupiter

Saturday, April 9th, 9 a.m. to noon.
Bartow High School, 1270 South Broadway, Bartow.  

For more information, call the Department of Financial Services’ storm hotline at 1-800-22-STORM or log on to www.MyFloridaCFO.com.

 




 


 

 

 

 

 

  

 


FLORIDA OFFICE OF INSURANCE REGULATION REVOKES LICENSE OF MUTUAL BENEFITS CORPORATION

Florida Insurance Regulation Commissioner Kevin McCarty issued a consent order revoking the license of viatical settlement company, Mutual Benefits Corporation, for violations of Florida and federal laws involving securities violations, fraud and misrepresentation. The Receiver of Mutual Benefits Corporation signed the consent order agreeing to the revocation after obtaining permission from the United States District Court.
 
The action follows lengthy investigations by the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). OIR issued an order suspending Mutual Benefits’ license to act as a viatical settlement provider in Florida in May 2004. Additionally, the U.S. District Court, for the Southern District of Florida, authorized the SEC to seize the assets of the Ft. Lauderdale-based company and placed it in federal receivership.
 
The company was charged with racketeering and 15 counts of investor fraud based on an investigation by the Division of Insurance Fraud.  CONTINUED