Volume 2 Number 25
June 20, 2005

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TEXT VERSION

 

 

I joined Gov. Bush at our Cabinet meeting in Fort Myers on Thursday in signing into law a measure that will better protect consumers from fraudulent viatical companies.  Viatical settlement providers match those who want to sell their life insurance policies at a discount with investors willing to buy the rights to those policies. 

Our purpose in pushing for this legislation was to allow us to effectively root out and prosecute the fraudulent operators in this industry.  No longer will Floridians be duped out of their hard earned savings because of pie-in-the-sky promises made by dishonest viatical operators.

John and Alice Romanus of Port Charlotte consider the bill a major victory in their fight to keep other investors from their painful experience. They had personally invested thousands with Mutual Benefits Corporation, which was shut down last May by state and federal regulators and is now charged with investor fraud and racketeering. More than $25,000 of their life savings went into this supposedly "risk-free" investment, only to have it disappear as part of a scam - a doctor was falsifying reports about the health of the insureds who weren't actually close to dying.

"I didn't want them to get away with scamming people, especially elderly people, out of their life savings," John Romanus said, reflecting on seven years of intense work helping us change the law.

Citizens like John and Alice Romanus are to be commended for speaking out about fraud in this industry. It is my hope that better oversight and tougher prosecution will put an end to these schemes.

Sarasota County courthouse was built in 1925 and was praised as one of the most artistic public buildings in the United States.


 

 

 

 

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GALLAGHER APPLAUDS SIGNING OF VIATICAL LEGISLATION

Bill a Response to Investor Abuse and Fraudulent Activity 

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher today joined Gov. Jeb Bush who signed into law a measure that will better protect consumers from fraudulent viatical companies.  The new law will define viatical settlements as “securities” and place regulatory authority over the viatical industry with the Office of Financial Regulation.  Viatical settlement providers match those who want to sell their life insurance policies at a discount with investors willing to buy the rights to those policies. 

“Our purpose in pushing for this legislation was to allow us to effectively root out and prosecute the fraudulent operators in this industry,” said Gallagher, who at the bill signing stood with investor victims Arnold and Alice Romanus from Port Charlotte.  The Romanus’ had personally invested thousands with Mutual Benefits Corporation, which was shut down last May by state and federal regulators and is now being charged with investor fraud and racketeering.  “No longer will Floridians be duped out of their hard earned savings because of pie-in-the-sky promises made by dishonest viatical operators.” 
 CONTINUED


 

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CFO GALLAGHER RELEASES ANNUAL TOP 10 FRAUD LIST

2004-2005 Top 10 cases add up to more than $2.7 million in losses

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher today released the Department of Financial Services’ annual Top 10 Fraud List, which summarizes 10 of the costliest or boldest securities, financial and insurance fraud scams that resulted in arrests or convictions by the Division of Insurance Fraud during the fiscal year that began July 1, 2004, and ends June 30, 2005. 

“Fraud schemes are becoming more complex and more costly, and the cost is passed on to every consumer in higher insurance premiums and higher costs for goods and services,” said Gallagher, who oversees the department. “But working together, we can fight back against these criminals and hit back hard.  The most important thing consumers can do is verify before they buy.”

This year’s Top 10 fraud schemes ranged from title insurance trickery to the perennial list maker, Personal Injury Protection auto insurance fraud, or PIP fraud.  On the list is one PIP fraud case in which eight individuals posed as journalists to gain access to police accident reports in order to solicit crash victims to go to unscrupulous medical clinics.  In another, more than two dozen individuals were arrested in a complex scheme that involved staging crashes in order to create “patients” for fraudulent medical clinics.  The ringleader is suspected of staging more than 90 auto crashes.  The 10 cases, listed in no particular order, add up to more than $2.7 million in financial losses.  Additional potential losses in these 10 cases – losses that may have occurred if an arrest had not been made when it was – add up to more than $1 million. CONTINUED


 

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GALLAGHER CALLS ON FLORIDA’S FIREFIGHTERS TO ‘STAND DOWN’ FOR SAFETY 

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Tom Gallagher is calling for Florida’s firefighters to join fellow responders across the nation in a “stand down” on Tuesday and suspend all non-emergency activity to focus on safety.

“Firefighters and their families accept that there is a lot of risk in this job, but they should not have to accept unnecessary risk,” Gallagher said.  “I am urging every fire department to use this day as an opportunity to review procedures and to tap into resources available through the State Fire Marshal’s office.”

In conjunction with the Florida Fire Chiefs’ Association and the Florida Professional Firefighters, the State Fire Marshal’s office is encouraging all fire department members, career and volunteer, to take time from their normal duties to closely look at what can be done to reduce the death and injury rate for firefighters.  Gallagher is urging fire departments to ask, “What can we do today, from firefighter to chief, to improve safety?

As of May 1, the nation’s fire departments have suffered 50 line-of-duty firefighter deaths–10 more than at this same time last year, according to the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) who is organizing the stand down with 14 partnering fire service organizations.

In Florida, three firefighters have died so far this year.  In the last three years, nine Florida firefighters died as a result of injuries sustained in the line of duty.  Hundreds of Florida firefighters are injured every year.  CONTINUED


 

 

 

 

 

 

GALLAGHER ANNOUNCES NORTH FLORIDA WINNERS IN CONTEST PROMOTING FINANCIAL LITERACY AMONG TEENS

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher today announced the names of three students who were the top picks in an essay contest aimed at encouraging financial literacy among middle and high school students. 

The contest, “Cash in on Your Money Smarts,” asked students, ages 14 to 18, to submit at least a 750-word essay on why they considered themselves money smart and offered students a chance at more than $7,500 in prizes statewide.  First, second and third place prizes are being awarded to teens in five geographic regions, for a total of 15 winners statewide.  Nearly 600 students participated this year.

“This essay contest was a great way to encourage Florida’s young people to show off their financial knowledge and writing skills, and reward them for it,” Gallagher said.  “Learning these valuable skills now will pave the way for a lifetime of financial success."   CONTINUED


 

 

 

LETCHWORTH MOUNDS

 

 

 

 

CAPITAL FOR A DAY IN FORT MYERS

Florida's Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher, along with the Governor, the Commissioner of Agriculture and the Attorney General, recognized Fort Myers as Capital for a Day recently as the Harborside Event Center served as the meeting venue. CFO Gallagher offered a resolution highlighting the history of Ft. Myers and honoring the City for serving as the host for this annual event.

Before a standing-room-only crowd, the Governor and Cabinet voted on issues ranging from corporate income tax rules to acquisition of environmentally sensitive land. However, the acquisition of a conservation easement adjacent to Letchworth Mounds State Park was deferred. Both CFO Gallagher and Governor Bush questioned the proposed purchase price and timing of a conservation easement. "We have a limited source of funding to acquire land for environmental preservation so we must ensure we maximize the public's dollars, especially since the Letchworth Mound itself is already protected under state ownership. This property had been on the state's acquisition list for 15 years, sold to a private developer 18 months ago and now we are considering buying it. I have concerns about that." That concern was shared by the governor and Cabinet leading to a deferral of consideration.

An item of particular local interest, Naples Bay Marina, was also considered by the Governor and Cabinet. The Capital for a Day meeting concluded with unanimous approval to convert this former boatyard to a marina as part of City of Naples economic development initiative.