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My Florida C F O
Weekly eNewsletter from Florida's Chief Financial Officer

Dear Fellow Floridian:

In order to stimulate lasting economic growth, we must first empower our entrepreneurs and small businesses—the backbone of our nation. Encouraging and supporting innovation will not only create jobs, but also contribute to the overall long-term health of our state’s economy.

This week, I was able to attend the University of Florida’s “A Celebration of Innovation” conference which provided a unique opportunity to showcase start-up companies in the areas of life sciences, biotechnology and production, and information CFO Atwater at Innovation Hubtechnology. The sixth annual innovation showcase facilitated a conversation between start-up companies and investors. Over 100 entrepreneurs gathered to discuss innovation in business and how to foster the relationships needed to bridge the gap between a great idea and a successful company.

It is vital to the long-term prosperity of our state that we cultivate a community in Florida of cutting-edge companies, encourage investments in innovative start-ups and take a proactive approach to ensuring our home-grown entrepreneurs build their companies in our state. In doing so, Florida will be strengthened in the high value-added industries of the future, all of which play a role in our economic recovery and provide diversification that will make Florida a global leader in the 21st century.

Jeff Atwater
Jeff Atwater
Chief Financial Officer
State of Florida

Real-life, Hands-on Financial Experience

As part of his ongoing Your Money Matter$ initiative, CFO Jeff Atwater held a press conference today at the student-run credit union located on the campus of Samuel W. Wolfson High School. CFO Jeff Atwater praised the accomplishments of teachers and students at the magnet school in Jacksonville.

Wolfson High School’s Academy of Business, Finance and Law began in 1991 and has a current academy enrollment of 160 students. Last September, VyStar Credit Union partnered with the school to launch Duval County’s first campus branch as a way to further the financial lessons being taught, and now employs 11 students.

“By starting this relationship here in high school, students have a significantly greater chance of financial success,” said CFO AtwaterYour Money Matters. “I would like to commend these students for taking the initiative in preparing for their own futures, and I applaud Wolfson High School and VyStar for creating this practical, hands-on learning experience.”

For more information or to access financial tips, calculators and information, visit CFO Atwater’s Your Money Matter$ website at www.MyFloridaCFO.com/YMM.

Honoring Former Senator Phil Lewis

This week, I had the opportunity to speak at the Homeless Coalition of Palm Beach County’s breakfast honoring former Sen. Phil Lewis. The breakfast was held to honor Sen. Lewis’ lifetime commitment to ending homelessness and poverty in Palm Beach County as well as to announce that the first homeless resource center will be named “The Senator Philip D. Lewis Center.” As a senator from 1970 through 1980, and also as a longtime Palm Beach County resident, he has always been an advocate for the less fortunate citizens of Palm Beach County and Florida as a whole. Sen. Lewis’ life has been a life of service; and I’m happy he’s receiving this honor for all the work he’s done to make his neighbors, the Palm Beach County community and the whole state of Florida a better place to live.

News of Interest

Miami Herald: 15 charged in lunch-truck insurance fraud case

WTXL TV: Floridians awarded for tips leading to insurance fraud arrests

Business Insider: The top 10 American cities for job growth

Wall Street Journal: Florida small business owners happier

Tampa Bay Business Journal: Google offers free websites to Florida businesses

Miami Herald: Work starts on floating resort off Key West

Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Florida home to 6 of the top 10 global hot spots for international buyers

Sun-Sentinel: Demand for funeral service education rises in slow economy

Rewards for Tips Leading to Arrests

CFO Atwater on Wednesday announced $25,000 in rewards for three Floridians who provided key information that led to arrests and convictions in five major insurance fraud cases. These citizens helped the Florida Department of Financial Services' Division of Insurance Fraud uncover almost $560,000 in fraudulent insurance billings leading to 10 arrests to date.Division of Insurance Fraud Badge

“These individuals had the courage to come forward and report suspected insurance fraud, ultimately helping protect their fellow Floridians from this costly crime,” CFO Atwater said. “Without their assistance these fraudsters would still be on the streets, stealing your hard-earned dollars.”

The following rewards were issued:

  • $10,000 was awarded to a citizen whose report of a solicitation to participate in a staged automobile accident led to the arrest of an accident clinic owner, recruiter and massage therapist, all from the same clinic.
  • $10,000 was awarded to a citizen who was able to obtain audio as well as video evidence demonstrating the daily operation of an illegal accident clinic. The citizen provided an invaluable service by taking time from his job and personal life to assist fraud detectives.
  • $5,000 was awarded to a citizen who provided detectives with assistance in uncovering a scheme to intentionally destroy a vehicle and make a fraudulent insurance claim.

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 $275,000 to more than 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.

Arrests in Miami Insurance Fraud Scam

CFO Atwater announced the outcome of a two-year insurance fraud investigation resulting in the arrests of 15 defendants for their roles in a Miami ring that used lunch trucks to stage more than a dozen accidents and file more than $800,000 in fraudulent property damage and Personal Injury Protection (PIP) claims.

“I am confident that reforms passed this session will help stop fraud at the source while giving us more tools to go after scam artists,” CFO Atwater said. “I will not stand by and let these organized crime rings steal your hard-earned dollars.”Division of Insurance Fraud Badge

The owners of the lunch trucks recruited participants to pose as the owners and stage auto accidents. Between 2008 and 2010, the ring staged more than a dozen accidents.

This case is part of a continuing crackdown by CFO Atwater’s Division of Insurance Fraud and the National Insurance Crime Bureau in the fight against auto insurance fraud in Florida. Under CFO Atwater’s leadership, the division arrested 392 individuals for PIP fraud in 2011—a 44 percent increase from 2010—and 166 so far in 2012.

Economic Update: Florida's Bottom Line

Read the quarterly newsletter for the inside track on Florida's financial health. To provide up-to-date information on Florida’s economy, we have a companion website featuring the latest data and easy access to our published editions.