Volume 8 Number 2 January 14, 2011
As your CFO, I have pledged to fight insurance fraud. The criminals who perpetrate these crimes are costing us billions of dollars a year in increased insurance premiums. I am committed to putting these thieves in jail.
In keeping with my pledge, this week detectives with our Division of Insurance Fraud arrested seven suspects in Miami and Naples accused of participating in nearly $170,000 worth of fraudulent auto insurance billings. Collectively, these suspects face a maximum of 300 years in prison if convicted on all charges.
Auto insurance fraud alone costs the average Florida family an additional $400 a year. Year after year, that adds up.
Three of the top five cities in the country for staged auto accidents are in Florida—Tampa, Miami and Orlando. Organized fraud rings recruit willing participants, fake an accident in which no one is injured, and send the participants to medical clinics or chiropractic offices for treatments that never occur. The clinics fraudulently bill auto insurance companies the maximum $10,000 limit on the participants’ Personal Injury Protection or PIP.
This type of fraud results in hundreds of millions of dollars in fraudulent billing, and that is money that comes directly out of our pockets. The arrests this week are the first of many in our mission to combat this costly crime.
State of Florida
On Monday, CFO Atwater was a guest speaker at the Florida Police Chiefs Association's Mid-Winter Training Conference in St. Augustine. CFO Atwater leads three law enforcement agencies: the Division of Insurance Fraud, which enforces the criminal laws of Florida related to insurance transactions, the Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations, serving as the State Fire Marshal, and the Office of Fiscal Integrity, which investigates fraud, waste and abuse of state resources. The CFO spoke about the importance of law enforcement working together to fight insurance fraud, particularly auto insurance fraud, and putting the criminals that perpetrate these crimes behind bars.
FPCA Executive Board, L-R – 3rd VP Chief Samuel Williams, Ocala PD – Parliamentarian, Chief Nolan McLeod, Auburndale PD – 1st VP, Chief Paul Sireci, Tampa International Airport Police – Executive Director, Amy Mercer – CFO Atwater – President, Chief Peter Paulding, Gulfbreeze PD – Secretary/Treasurer, Chief Jay Romine, Holmes Beach PD – Immediate Past President, Chief Dorene Thomas, Pinellas Park PD and 3rd VP, Chief Dennis Jones, Tallahassee PD.
In keeping with his promise to fight Personal Injury Protection (PIP) fraud and its effect on driving up auto insurance costs, Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater announced the arrests of seven suspects in Miami and Naples accused of participating in nearly $170,000 worth of fraudulent auto insurance billings.
Detectives in CFO Atwater’s Department of Financial Services, Division of Insurance Fraud, made the arrests on Tuesday and Wednesday. The arrests include six individuals accused of staging or participating in fake auto crashes in Miami, and a Naples massage therapist who submitted fraudulent billings on two patients. Collectively, these suspects face a maximum of 300 years in prison if convicted on all charges, which include grand theft, filing false or fraudulent insurance claims, staging an accident and patient brokering.
“PIP fraud perpetrators may find the crime easy to commit, but I am putting the word out that they will do hard time if convicted,” said CFO Atwater. “I am committed to working with law enforcement agencies throughout the state to combat this costly crime and bring financial relief to Florida insurance consumers who foot the bill for fraud when they pay premiums.”
PIP fraud, which involves a variety of crimes including staged car accidents, fake injuries and fraudulent insurance claims, costs the average Florida family as much $400 a year. Four Florida cities – Tampa, Miami, Orlando and Hialeah – are now listed among the top 10 in the nation for PIP fraud.
Six suspects were arrested on Wednesday in Miami. Ricardo Uranga Guemes, 32, and Yamilka Turino, 30, were arrested on third-degree felony charges stemming from an investigation that determined they recruited five participants in a staged accident. The investigation determined that nearly $78,000 in fraudulent PIP claims were filed. Marlene Linda Mendez, 49, was arrested on felony charges stemming from a May 2009 staged car crash that resulted in $70,000 in fraudulent billings. Santos Colero, 40, and Odalys Sardinas, 42, were arrested and a third man, Michael Perez, 25, is being sought on various felony charges stemming from an August 2010 staged car crash that was reported as a hit-and-run with a phantom vehicle. Two individuals were recruited and paid $1,400 each to participate and file fraudulent injury claims at two medical clinics.
Yesterday, Serenity R. Toler, 24, a massage therapist, was arrested on charges of submitting more than $10,000 in fraudulent claims for two patients who never received treatment. Toler is facing third-degree felony charges.
On December 29, detectives with the Collier County Sheriff’s Office arrested the clinic owners, Jacqueline Fils and Clebson Fils, on multiple counts of insurance fraud.
Great to meet Bob Johnson of “The Catfish Place” in Apopka. It is small business owners like him that are the true job creators, and who help put money back in the pockets of Floridians. Support your local small businesses for the growth of Florida’s economy!
CFO Atwater met with Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs (FDVA) Interim Director Lt. General Robert F. Milligan on January 6. General Milligan was appointed director of the FDVA on August 26, 2010, to succeed the late Admiral LeRoy Collins, Jr. The FDVA helps identify and provide assistance to the estimated 1.6 million veterans living in Florida by assisting veterans with their benefits and claims and managing the state’s seven veterans’ nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
During their meeting, General Milligan provided an update on the success of the Florida Vets Connect Program. This new joint initiative between the FDVA and Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, allows veterans to voluntarily identify themselves when applying for or renewing their driver’s license or vehicle registration. The veteran contact information is provided to the FDVA who contact each veteran to ensure Florida veterans are aware of available federal and state veteran’s benefits they may be entitled.
A personal automobile insurance policy covers the named insured, spouse and relatives who reside with the named insured, if all licensed drivers have been disclosed. The insurance policy may also cover other drivers who have permission to use the automobile. In other words, if insureds loan their vehicle, they are most likely loaning their insurance policy as well.
If the person using the automobile lives with the insured or has regular usage of the automobile, he or she must be added to the policy. Otherwise, the company may cancel the policy and refuse to pay a claim.
On Wednesday, Tallahassee Mayor John Marks along with the Tallahassee Business Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Council presented Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater with the “Jeff Atwater Ave.” street sign used during the inauguration festivities. The CFO will work with the city and these organizations to promote small businesses throughout the state.