FLORIDA'S CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER TOM
Volume 1, Number 13,
March 29, 2004
LAW ENFORCEMENT DIVISIONS TRAIN
TO HANDLE THE UNEXPECTED
I had the privilege last
week of speaking to the Florida Highway Patrol’s 106th graduating class. For
many visitors, these individuals often will be their first contact with Florida
law enforcement. Ironically, many of the new troopers come from other states
themselves and have committed to serve the citizens of Florida.
On average, Florida gets
800 new residents a day. This kind of influx creates new challenges and new
demands for all of us who serve the public. And, for law enforcement, the
events of September 11, 2001, added to what already was a heavy responsibility.
Our department’s two certified law enforcement
units know this well and are continuously training and preparing for their
The Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations is
responsible for the investigation of arsons and arson-related offenses, which
puts these investigators at the forefront of responding to and investigating
explosions. Our cause-and-origin investigators, including six trained bomb
technicians, are recognized as among the best in the nation. The bureau is
trained in handling the aftermath of most explosive incidents and has trained
more than 2,000 state and local agency and civilian personnel in explosive
device recognition, bomb threats, physical security, and post-blast
The State Fire Marshal’s Bureau of Forensic Fire
and Explosives Analysis, one of only three in the nation, analyzes thousands of
fire samples every year submitted by law enforcement agencies throughout the
state. Together, the fire lab and bureau are responsible for investigating
nearly 8,000 suspicious fires every year.
Division of Insurance Fraud is responsible for investigating fraud in all lines
of insurance. Investigations frequently involve complex and organized crime
schemes and require in-depth understanding of computer science, interstate law
and criminal organizations.
department’s law enforcement divisions frequently work together on cases
involving burning to defraud and work closely with federal, state and local law
enforcement agencies. For several years the division has led the nation’s
insurance fraud bureaus in arrests and convictions and holds an anti-fraud
conference every year that draws hundreds of investigators and prosecutors from
around the country.
these fully sworn divisions are required to maintain their training and be
prepared to respond to any kind of criminal act that may be discovered during
the course of carrying our their duties. Required training includes defensive
driving, firearms defense tactics, arrest techniques and other high-liability
areas specific to law enforcement officers. The department law enforcement
divisions also participate in the state’s mutual aid agreement to respond to any
natural or man-made disaster.
men and women are on the front lines every day protecting Floridians’ lives and
property. On behalf of the people of Florida, I salute you and your families
for accepting this call to serve.
GALLAGHER, LAWMAKERS ASK
FOR GREATER AUTHORITY TO CURB ABUSIVE PRACTICES USED BY DEBT COLLECTORS
Harassing phone calls at all hours, abusive language
and threats of incarceration and physical harm are the impetus for Chief
Financial Officer Tom Gallagher joining state lawmakers, including Senate
President Jim King, to promote legislation giving regulators the authority to
stop such practices used increasingly by debt collection agencies. Senator
Victor Crist and Representative Gus Bilirakis are sponsoring the legislation (SB
2430/HB 1371). HB 1371 was passed unanimously today by the House Subcommittee
on Banking and Securities.
this new legislation, collection agencies using abusive tactics to collect
consumer debt will no longer be tolerated,” said Chief Financial Officer Tom
Gallagher, who serves as agency head for the Department of Financial Services (DFS).
“Consumers who contact the department for assistance should not be turned away
because there is a lack of enforcement authority to protect them.”
DFS has received hundreds of
calls over the last year from Floridians reporting harassing, threatening and
frequent phone calls and other correspondence from debt collection agencies.
Current law does not provide regulators with the tools needed to oversee
collection agency practices.
“Many Floridians turn to credit cards or loans during tight times,” said Senator
Victor Crist, whose version of the bill was recently passed unanimously by the
Senate Banking and Insurance Committee. “But if they get into financial
trouble, they deserve ethical treatment by debt collectors. No one should be
afraid to answer the telephone.”
majority of debt collectors do not engage in abusive tactics,” said Rep. Gus
Bilirakis. “But those who do should not be tolerated. Floridians deserve more
protections against collection agencies who prey upon individuals and families
experiencing hard financial times.”
legislation would allow the department’s Office of Financial Regulation (OFR)
Investigate a consumer complaint
and serve subpoenas to enforce compliance
cease and desist orders and refund orders
Impose fines of up to $1,000 per violation
telephone inquiries and in-person visits to collection agencies
Enforce registration requirements of consumer collection agencies
rules, as necessary, for the regulation of this industry
“Lawmakers’ approval of this bill will help state regulators prevent the abuses
we are seeing in the consumer collection industry,” said Don Saxon, Director of
consumer from Edgewater, Florida, complained to DFS that a debt collector had
posed as a state investigator and threatened to have the local sheriff’s office
escort her to jail. Another said a collector promised to arrest her son, who
lives in another state, unless she wired a cash payment immediately. Hundreds
of other Floridians have been verbally abused and threatened, including a family
whose young daughter was told her mother would be sent to jail unless they paid
legislation would allow OFR to inspect collection agency records and enlist the
help of other law enforcement agencies if evidence of fraud is detected. The
legislation would also provide that a violation of the Federal Fair Debt
Collection Practices Act would also constitute a violation of Florida’s
Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act, granting prosecution authority to the
Office of the Attorney General.
Consumers who have experienced abusive collection tactics from a collection
agency should contact the Department of Financial Services toll free at
FLORIDA COMMISSION ON THE
STATUS OF WOMEN CELEBRATES WOMEN'S HISTORY MONTH
Members of the Florida Cabinet and Legislature joined the Florida Commission on
the Status of Women to celebrate Women's History Month on Monday, March 22, 2004
in the Capitol Rotunda. The event commemorated the accomplishments of Florida's
women and celebrated the many ways women strengthen and enrich Florida. The
event included the reading and presentation of Governor Jeb Bush's proclamation
recognizing March as Women's History Month and remarks from members of the
Florida Commission on the Status of Women."
The Florida Commission on the Status of Women is proud to honor and celebrate
the many achievements of Florida's women. Women mean so much to our state and
our history," says Dr. Patricia Clements, Commission Chair.
The Florida Commission on the Status of Women is a nonpartisan board,
statutorily created in 1991 consisting of 22 appointed members. The Commission,
through coordinating, researching, communicating and encouraging legislation, is
dedicated to empowering women from all walks of life in achieving their fullest
potential, to eliminating barriers to that achievement, and to recognizing
women's accomplishments. Additional information on the Commission is available
from its web site at
FOUNDING FCSW BOARD MEMBER
ELSIE CROWELL RETIRES FROM THE STATE
Crowell, Insurance Consumer Advocate in the Department of Financial Services, is
being honored this month upon her retirement from public service. Ms. Crowell
was appointed by Treasurer Tom Gallagher to the Florida Commission on the Status
of Women in 1991, and was elected Commission Chair in 1993, serving two
consecutive terms as Chair and eight years on the Commission.
past 37 years, Elsie Crowell has been a devoted public servant to the citizens
of Florida, Florida Agriculture and Mechanical University, Florida State
University, the Departments of Health and Rehabilitative Services, Professional
Regulation, Insurance, and Financial Services.
career began at FAMU, earning her Bachelor of Science degree in 1967 and her
Masters Degree in 1971.
1969 through 1984, Ms. Crowell held positions in personnel management for the
Departments of Health and Rehabilitative Services and Professional Regulation.
In 1984, her selection as Division Director for Examination and Licensure for
the Department of Professional Regulation encompassed over 600 career service
and contractual personnel.
1989, Elsie Crowell was selected by the Treasurer and Insurance Commissioner,
Tom Gallagher, as Division Director for the Division of Agent and Agency
Services. Beginning in 1991, her service as Division Director for Consumer
Services demonstrated exceptional leadership during the aftermath of Hurricane
Crowell has served as the Insurance Consumer Advocate from 1997 to the present
and has worked on a variety of consumer issues including easy-to-read insurance
policies, workers’ compensation rates, managed-care grievances, but none more
admirably than her efforts to prohibit the sale of industrial life insurance
policies in Florida.
earned respect and admiration throughout her career in Florida.
Her family, including two
grandchildren, will enjoy having more time with her, and Ms. Crowell will
continue her pursuit of a Ph.D. in Health Policy at FSU.
3 ARRESTED FOR $1.5 MILLION IN INSURANCE FRAUD
Chief Financial Officer Tom
Gallagher and Attorney General Charlie Crist announced today the arrests of
three South Florida residents on charges that they defrauded Chubb Insurance
Company with false claims netting more than $1.5 million.
"It is estimated that
insurance fraud costs the average Florida family as much as $1,400 a year in
higher premiums and higher costs for goods and services," said Chief Financial
Officer Tom Gallagher, who oversees the Division of Insurance Fraud within the
Department of Financial Services. "This kind of cost can have a devastating
effect on the economy, making it harder for families to make ends meet and
harder for employers to maintain jobs and benefits."
Russell Mazer, 45, a Boca
Raton businessman; his estranged wife Wendy J. Mazer, 34; and Neil Roeder, 42, a
former Chubb insurance adjuster, have been charged with First-Degree Organized
Fraud. Russell Mazer has also been charged with three counts of Insurance Fraud
and two counts of First-Degree Grand Theft. All three were booked into Palm
Beach County Jail.
Following a small fire at
their Boca Raton home, the Mazers filed their fraudulent multimillion dollar
claims with Roeder, who approved the claims after receiving over $20,000 in
illicit cash payments. The insurance settlement provided the Mazers with the
funds to raze and rebuild their twenty-year-old waterfront home that had
structural problems due to years of seawall neglect. Additionally, the Mazers
inflated claims about damage to home electronics, some of which were not even in
their home at the time of the fire, and inflated their daily living expenses,
submitting claims in excess of $536,000. Today, the Mazer home is a vacant lot,
and the monies received from the insurance settlement were spent on other
The defendants face 30 years
in prison for each of the First-Degree charges and a maximum of 5 years in
prison for each Third-Degree charge.
Florida Department of
Consumer Services HelpLine (800)342-2762.