Volume 8 Number 4 January 28, 2011
Dear Fellow Floridians:
This week, as I listened to Congressman Paul Ryan address the issues facing our nation, one point struck a chord with me. “Our nation is approaching a tipping point. We are at a moment, where if government's growth is left unchecked and unchallenged, America's best century will be considered our past century,” Congressman Ryan said in reference to uncontrolled government spending.
I could not agree more that it is time to reduce government spending and ensure that government is operating effectively and efficiently. The money that funds government programs comes directly from the taxpayers, and we must ensure that they are only paying for programs that provide value. It’s time for government to take a critical, in-depth look at programs, and I’m going to start with my office.
We have already begun an evaluation of programs within the Department of Financial Services. If a program is worthwhile and provides a needed service to Floridians, we’ll make sure clear and measurable outcomes are in place. If we can find ways to do things more resourcefully by merging programs or enhancing others, we’ll do it. If we find programs that are outdated or don’t provide clear value to Floridians, we’ll eliminate them and direct those needed resources to essential programs. Most importantly, if we accomplish any savings through our efforts, we’ll direct them back to Florida taxpayers.
We cannot simply freeze spending, we must cut it, and the best way to do this is to eliminate inefficiencies and get rid of programs that are not worth our taxpayers’ dollars. We owe it to our fellow Floridians.
Chief Financial Officer
State of Florida
Florida CFO Jeff Atwater on Friday announced that the Department of Financial Services’ Division of Insurance Fraud (DIF), in partnership with the Tampa Police Department and Hillsborough Sheriff’s Department, has arrested five individuals accused of submitting $118,000 in fraudulent insurance claims through a Tampa clinic. Two of the suspects, husband and wife Isidoro and Yusimy Martinez, were previously arrested by DIF detectives for a similar scheme involving another Tampa clinic.
Florida currently leads the nation in suspected fraudulent auto insurance claims, particularly fraudulent Personal Injury Protection (PIP) claims. CFO Atwater has committed to attacking this costly crime.
“This kind of fraud robs hardworking Floridians of the dollars they need to rebuild their businesses and meet the needs of their families,” said CFO Atwater. “I will continue to work aggressively to expose these crimes, and I applaud the fraud detectives who took swift action to notify the insurance companies so that most of the claims were never processed.”
Because of DIF’s quick action, only $4,000 in claims were paid by insurers. DIF investigators used undercover operatives and documented sources to verify all five participants were illegally submitting false medical billing forms. DIF received assistance on this case from Nationwide, Allstate and Hallmark Insurance Companies, along with the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
In addition to Isidoro and Yusimy Martinez, DIF detectives arrested Afranio Rosario, Nadine Diaz, and Lidiana Cabrera on charges of filing false and fraudulent claims through Marbella Medical Center in Tampa. Isidoro Martinez is still on probation for the previous arrest and was also charged with violation of probation.
Three years ago, Isidoro and Yusimy Martinez were arrested for similar activities at the former Bella Mar Medical Center in Tampa. Yusimy pleaded guilty to insurance fraud, patent brokering and staging an accident. She received one year of community control and three years of probation, was court ordered to pay restitution and investigative fees and was banned from owning a clinic in Florida. Isidoro pleaded guilty to insurance fraud and patient brokering, was ordered to jointly pay restitution with his wife, investigative fees and received five years of probation.
Yusimy could not legally operate her own clinic; therefore, she allegedly paid a “straw owner” to open the Marbella Medical Center under his name through the Agency for Health Care Administration by arranging for a false license exemption application. As soon as the clinic opened, 19 patients were immediately obtained from automobile accidents to further their fraud scheme.
Florida CFO Jeff Atwater on Thursday announced $50,500 in rewards for eight Floridians who provided key information that led to arrests and convictions in five major insurance fraud cases. These citizens helped uncover more than $2 million in fraudulent insurance billings leading to 26 arrests to date.
“These citizens stepped up and made a tremendous contribution to the fight against insurance fraud,” said CFO Atwater. “Their actions go beyond these cases—they have helped every Floridian who pays more than they should for insurance premiums.”
Four of the cases involved fraudulent Personal Injury Protection (PIP) claims, a costly crime that has made Florida the nation’s leader in staged auto accidents. One of CFO Atwater’s top priorities is to crack down on those who perpetrate auto insurance fraud, a crime that is forcing many families to pay hundreds of dollars in additional premiums each year, depending on how many cars they have in the driveway and where they live.
“It is unfair and unconscionable that every person who buys an auto insurance policy in the state of Florida is paying for the thieves and enabling industries who are gaming the system, and it won’t be tolerated,” said CFO Atwater, who yesterday addressed the Florida House of Representatives Insurance & Banking Subcommittee on auto insurance fraud.
Rewards issued for PIP cases include:
Three witnesses will be paid a total of $25,000 for providing information against Jacksonville-based Lee and Cates Glass Co., a windshield replacement business that filed 2,245 fraudulent claims totaling more than $1.2 million. There have been 11 arrests associated with this company. The company replaced windshields with after-market windshields and charged insurance companies for new ones. One of the witnesses will be paid $15,000, and two others will receive $8,750 and $1,250.
These cases were investigated by the Division of Insurance Fraud, the law enforcement arm of the Department of Financial Services responsible for investigating all insurance fraud in Florida. Anyone with information about these or any other incidents of suspected insurance fraud is asked to call 1-800-378-0455. Citizens who provide tips can remain anonymous.
The Department of Financial Services to date has awarded almost $250,000 to approximately 40 citizens as part of its Anti-Fraud Reward Program. The program rewards individuals up to $25,000 for information that directly leads to an arrest and conviction in an insurance fraud scheme.
Florida CFO Jeff Atwater on Wednesday announced the arrest of David Rodriguez-Socarras, 49, a Duval County man who allegedly created a "shell" company and fictitious name in order to cash nearly $3 million in payroll checks through a money service business to avoid workers' compensation premiums and payroll taxes.
“Unlawful acts, such as these, hurt honest business owners, our state's economy and Floridians who bear the cost of these crimes,” said CFO Atwater. “I am determined to commit all possible resources to uncovering and stopping these crimes and ensuring our workers have the coverage they need to be protected on the job.”
Socarras is facing multiple felony charges, including application fraud, workers' compensation fraud, criminal use of personal identification information, fraudulent application for a Florida driver’s license or ID card, and possession of a fraudulent Florida driver’s license or ID card, and faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted on all charges. He was booked on Monday into the Duval County Jail with bond set at $300,000.
The violations were uncovered when the department's Bureau of Workers' Compensation Compliance served a Stop Work Order on Socarras' business, HMV Construction Incorporated, and discovered he had provided 57 certificates of insurance to companies from Jacksonville to Naples.
A "shell" company is often created to utilize money service businesses, such as check cashing stores, to cash large construction payroll checks for contractors who are avoiding paying for workers' compensation premiums and payroll taxes.
Socarras' arrest is part of an ongoing investigation by the North Florida High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force's Money Laundering Unit that includes the DIF, Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
This week Andrew Reiss from “Andrews Capitol Bar and Grill,” located just across the street from the Capitol, unveiled the 2011 additions to the menu, a Tallahassee tradition for 16 years. Excited to try the new “Atwater St. Louis Barbeque Burger,” the CFO said it was excellent, and encourages you all to try it. Many know Andrew Reiss as “Andy” and have been to “Andrews Capitol Bar and Grill” countless times, but what some don’t know is that Andrew Reiss has been in the restaurant business in Tallahassee since the 70s. He embodies the entrepreneurial spirit and is a true job creator. It is small business owners like Andy that are invigorating Florida’s economy.
Florida CFO Jeff Atwater on Tuesday announced that Clearwater-based VeteransPlus has been named the winner of the 2011 Champion of Financial Literacy Award for providing financial education to more than 4,000 military personnel and their families last year. Each year, the Florida Financial Literacy Council (FFLC) selects an individual or organization that possesses a strong commitment to financial literacy education in Florida to receive the Champion of Financial Literacy Award.
“There is no greater calling than serving ones country, and VeteransPlus offers an incredibly valuable service to our men and women in uniform by empowering them with the tools and information they need to financially protect themselves and their families,” said CFO Jeff Atwater. “I am honored to recognize their efforts to promote financial literacy and support our military personnel.”
VeteransPlus provides one-on-one counseling with licensed, certified financial counselors to veterans, active-duty service members and their families. Their singular goal is to help establish a better quality of life and a sound financial future for the men and women who have served our country and their families. Between January 1, 2010, and October 30, 2010, VeteransPlus provided financial education to over 4,000 active duty Military, National Guard, Reservists, Veterans and their families at 38 events throughout Florida.
“We are honored to be recognized for this distinguished award; however, as Floridians who have worn our nation's uniform continue to struggle with the economic challenges associated with multiple deployments, there is much to be done. We look forward to greater opportunities where financial literacy can lead to financial wellness for those who have served and their families,” said VeteransPlus Deputy Director Chris Fitzpatrick.
The FFLC also recognized as runner-up The Elder Consumer Protection Program at Stetson University, which focuses on providing financial education and empowerment to senior citizens through outreach presentations and web tools.
CFO Atwater announced on Wednesday that he has tapped the expertise of West Palm Beach attorney and community advocate Wendy Sartory Link to serve as the Chair of the Healthy Kids Board. The Florida Healthy Kids program is a public-private corporation that has provided subsidized health insurance to school-aged kids for 20 years.
“I applaud the work of the Florida Healthy Kids Program, and I am confident that Wendy will provide significant input and leadership as the board continues to work to improve this important program,” said CFO Atwater. “One of our greatest obligations is ensuring our children are healthy and ready to grasp all of the opportunities the future holds.”
“I am honored to be given the opportunity to participate in this important work on behalf of Florida families and children,” Link said. “My priorities will be to ensure access for qualified families and to provide the most appropriate care for the children who depend on this program.”
The managing partner and a founding partner of Ackerman, Link & Sartory, Link has won numerous awards as a business leader, including Leadership of Palm Beach County’s Leadership Excellence Award in 2009 and a South Florida Business Journal “Ultimate CEO” award in 2008. She also is passionate about serving her community, and serves on the Boards of Directors of the Economic Council of Palm Beach County, WPBT Channel 2, and the United Way. She also has won awards for her pro bono legal services contributions to the Salvation Army and was recognized as one of the 2000 March of Dimes “Women of Distinction.”
As chairman of the Healthy Kids Board, Link will oversee a 13-member board that includes doctors, child care and policy experts, and local advocates. More than 220,000 children enrolled in Florida Healthy Kids have access to regular doctor visits, dental check-ups and immunizations. Florida Healthy Kids is a component of the larger Florida KidCare program, which serves nearly 1.9 million children.
For more information about enrollment in Florida KidCare, visit www.floridakidcare.org to apply on-line or call 1-888-540-5437 to receive an application by mail.
Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater today announced the appointment of three key staff members at the Department of Financial Services who will oversee the payment of the state's bills, information technology resources and program assessment.
“I am honored that these accomplished professionals have agreed to continue their careers with the Department of Financial Services,” said CFO Atwater. “Their combined skill sets will help us accomplish our aggressive agenda to reform the state’s purchasing processes, put the thieves committing fraud behind bars and ensure that our programs are providing value to Florida taxpayers.”
Christina Smith, a veteran of the department, will oversee the Division of Accounting and Auditing, which pays the state’s bills, approximately 36 million bills annually, and audits state payments. Ms. Smith previously served as the Assistant Director of the division. She has more than 16 years of experience monitoring the effectiveness and efficiency of the various programs and accounting and auditing activities. Ms. Smith received her Bachelor’s degree in accounting from Florida State University.
Terry Kester will serve as the Chief Information Officer and will oversee the department’s technology resources. Mr. Kester comes from Department of Business and Professional Regulation, where he served as CIO and Director of Service Operations. He has more than 25 years of experience in the IT and telecommunications fields, including managing information technology operations, network design, vendor relations and project planning in both the public and private sectors.
Allison Carter will serve as the Director of Program Management responsible for assessing the department’s programs and recommending improvements. Ms. Carter began her career in the public sector as a Senate legislative assistant. She continued her government service with the Public Service Commission before rejoining the Senate where she most recently served as the Staff Director of the Majority Office.
Most of us don’t like to think about it, but do you know the rules and laws that govern cemeteries and funeral services in Florida?
The Department of Financial Services oversees the regulation and licensing of funeral homes and services, as well as cemeteries in Florida.
Did you know that if a grave marker is damaged or vandalized, unless caused by the cemetery or its employees, it should be covered by the homeowners insurance of the person who owns the gravesite?
This is only one example of the tools and information available to consumers on our Division of Funeral, Cemetery and Consumer Services website.
Consumers with questions or complaints about funeral homes, cemeteries or pre-need arrangements may contact the Division of Funeral, Cemeteries and Consumer Services at (850) 413-3039.
For more information, please visit our website at http://www.myfloridacfo.com/funeralcemetery/.