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

State Fire Marshal BadgeDear Fellow Floridian:

As Florida’s Chief Financial Officer, I have the honor of serving as Florida’s State Fire Marshal. Each day, the men and women of the State Fire Marshal’s office work hard to keep you safe and get to the bottom of arson cases in every region of our state. The dedication and diligence of this team to protect our fellow Floridians was the driving force behind the bust of an arson ring in Miami this week.

On Wednesday, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle stood with meOperation Candlelight mug shots to announce the arrests of 20 individuals who were part of an arson ring wreaking havoc across Miami-Dade County. At the center of the ring was an individual who orchestrated the participants renting 10 different homes, setting fire to those homes and collecting more than $1.5 million in insurance claims. These individuals will be charged with more than 300 felony counts, with one of the key conspirators being charged with 39 felony counts alone. View more photos.

These arsonists endanger innocent residents for their personal financial gains. I am proud of the work of the men and women on the ground in the StateSFM Candlelight press conference Fire Marshal’s office, and I thank our partners at the Miami-Dade Police Department and State Attorney’s Office for helping us put these criminals behind bars.

Jeff Atwater
Jeff Atwater
Chief Financial Officer
State of Florida

Employers Support the Guard & Reserve

This week, CFO Atwater sponsored a resolution recognizing Thursday, May 17, 2012, as Florida Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve Day (ESGR) across the state. On Thursday, representatives from the CFO’s Divisions of Insurance Fraud and State Fire Marshal, as well as law enforcement officials from across the state, signed a “Statement of Support” to show their appreciation for those who serve their country at a moment’s notice.Florida Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve

Employers play a vital role in the defense of the nation by working with the brave men and women in the Guard and Reserve. The ESGR is an invaluable resource for both employers and the National Guard and military reserve members who work for them. It is essential to maintain employer support for service members of the National Guard and military reserves by recognizing outstanding contributions and efforts by employers and increasing awareness of the laws that support Florida National Guard and military reserve service.

Take time this week to thank those who are in the Guard and Reserve for being on the front lines when America needs them most.

News of Interest

CBS Miami: 20 Arrested In Operation Candlelight Arson And Insurance Scam

Tampa Bay Business Journal: Former Palm Harbor insurance agent arrested in $2M scam

Sun-Sentinel: Unemployment falls to 8.7 percent, lowest since January 2009

University of Florida News: Florida’s real estate professionals find reasons to be optimistic in first quarter

Bradenton Herald: Financial illiteracy is costing you

Miami Herald: Hispanic-owned marketing agencies grow in size, scope

Palm Beach Post: Businesses slow to employ health-care law

Arrest of Scammer for Investment Fraud

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater announced the arrest of former insurance agent Neal Seth Smalbach, 49, of Palm Harbor, for grand theft in misrepresenting details of financial products to multiple senior clients who allegedly suffered losses of more than $2 million in unsuitable financial investments. Division of Insurance Fraud Badge

“Florida’s seniors have worked hard for many years to earn their money and prepare for retirement,” CFO Atwater said. “Criminals who choose to prey on the elderly for their own financial gain will be caught and they will be brought to justice.”

An investigation by the Department of Financial Services Division of Insurance Fraud revealed that Smalbach allegedly misrepresented the factual details of investment products to multiple senior citizens for personal gain. As a result of Smalbach’s misrepresentations, an estimated $4.6 million was invested by seniors in products that were unsuitable for them.

The Division of Agent and Agency Services also conducted an investigation of Smalbach and alleged that he falsified two applications for insurance to an insurer. On March 22, 2012, the division entered into a settlement with Smalbach providing for the surrender of his licenses with the same force and effect as a revocation and his permanent ban from the insurance industry. Smalbach was booked into Pinellas County Jail and is awaiting bond. If convicted, he faces up to 54 years in prison. The Office of Statewide Prosecution will prosecute the charges against Smalbach.

CFO Atwater encourages seniors to visit the On Guard for Seniors website, www.MyFloridaCFO.com/OnGuard, for tips and resources designed to help seniors navigate through challenging financial decisions and avoid financial scams. For additional information, visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com or call the department’s Consumer Helpline at 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (1-877-693-5236).

Anyone with information about these or any other incidents of suspected insurance fraud is asked to call 1-800-378-0445. 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.

A Roadmap for your Financial Future

The spring issue of Florida’s Bottom Line focuses on how Florida can attract much-needed investors to support Florida’s entrepreneurs, who can effectively grow health care, technology and manufacturing in our state's burgeoning economy. Our companion website provides the most up-to-date financial and economic statistics for Florida, serving as a roadmap for your financial future.

Visit Florida's Bottom Line website at http://www.myfloridacfo.com/floridasbottomline/.