FLORIDA CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER TOM
Volume 1, Number 48, November 29, 2004
While you are out shopping
this holiday season, remember to check your list twice – be careful with your
personal financial information and how much you are spending.
It’s the time of year when the
holiday spirit can lead us to give too much. There are people out there looking
to take advantage of that giving spirit. Bogus solicitations can come over the
phone, in the mailbox or through the Internet. See the story below for more
But also be careful not to
victimize yourself. Don’t strain your budget. The department has launched a
public education campaign, Your Money Your Life, that can help you manage
your finances so that you can enjoy the real reason for the holiday.
-- Tom Gallagher
BEYOND THE CALL OF DUTY DUE TO BAD
Before taking off to join
family for turkey, dressing and pumpkin pie, several members of the Department
of Financial Services’ staff went out of their way to save the holiday for many
The Division of Accounting and
Auditing produces bi-weekly payroll checks for universities that do not yet run
their own payroll. On Monday, those checks were shipped via Federal Express.
The bi-weekly payday was on Wednesday.
But on Tuesday, Federal Express
reported that bad weather had grounded the airplane at its Memphis hub. The
University of North Florida, University of West Florida and Florida
International University requested assistance in getting replacement paychecks.
The staff from the divisions of
Accounting and Auditing and Information Systems re-issued checks, and two
employees -- Hal Foy, financial administrator in the Bureau of Accounting, and
Allen Reams, chief of the Bureau of Accounting, delivered the checks.
Also helping in the holiday
spirit were Marvin Naiman, Bureau of State Payrolls, Ron Ricks, Division of
Information Systems, Sally Martin, Division of Information Systems, Freida
Ritter, Division of Information Systems and Tommy Lawhon, Division of
Many thanks to these dedicated workers and to all employees who go beyond the
call of duty.
GALLAGHER TO CONSUMERS: BEWARE OF FINANCIAL
SCAMS THIS HOLIDAY SEASON
season is the time of year when the spirit of joy and giving is in the air.
Unfortunately, it’s also the time of year when scam artists often take advantage
of the giving spirit. Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher is urging
consumers to be extra cautious with their money to avoid financial scams.
“Take steps to protect your personal and financial information from identity
theft this holiday season, especially if you are making purchases online or over
the phone,” Gallagher said. “Scam artists who get ahold of your sensitive
information can wreak havoc with your finances.”
Consumers shopping online should also take extra precautions to avoid identity
theft, the nation’s fastest growing crime. Deal only with reputable companies
and take steps to secure your personal and financial information. Gallagher
said consumers often contact the state reporting they have been unable to find
physical addresses or phone numbers for online businesses. Some reported scams
have resulted from transactions with overseas businesses.
“Remember, a company based outside the country is outside of our laws,”
Other ways to prevent identity theft include shredding junk mail credit card
offers, reviewing all bank and credit card records and checking credit reports
at least once a year. The Department of Financial Services has available an
online resource on identity theft with links to more tips and information on
avoiding this costly scam. Consumers can log on to
www.MyFloridaCFO.com and click the “ID Theft” banner to visit the site.
Other types of scams that often find victims this time of year are phony
charitable organizations and bogus income tax scams. An individual posing as a
local charity may solicit consumers over the phone. Potential donors should ask
questions, including what the organization plans to do with the gift, and be
wary of appeals that are long on emotion and short on details. A reputable
organization will never demand cash, and all checks should be made payable to
the organization, never to an individual. Florida law also requires that
charitable organizations provide a copy of their annual financial report upon
In addition, don’t fall victim to an income tax avoidance scheme this holiday
season. Resist the urge to file for nonexistent refunds, such as social
security advances and slavery reparations. Attempting to collect on an illegal
claim can result in a $500 federal penalty. Decline to talk with anyone
offering to file a claim on your behalf for an upfront “fee.” These individuals
will cash your check and move on to the next victim.
Gallagher also provided some advice that’s good year-round. He advised
consumers who are purchasing homes, automobiles, investments or insurance to
take the time necessary to read each document or contract carefully and verify
that they are dealing with a licensed company. He urged consumers to talk with
their agents or brokers about their rights and responsibilities under the law
before signing any agreement.
For questions or to file complaints, consumers may call the Department of
Financial Services toll-free at 1-800-342-2762 or log on to
MORATORIUM ON INSURANCE CANCELLATIONS EXTENDED TO DEC. 31ST FOR HOMES NOT YET
Action by Gov., Cabinet anticipates additional legislation
TALLAHASSEE-Governor Jeb Bush and members of Florida’s Cabinet approved an
emergency rule banning insurance companies from canceling or nonrenewing
insurance policies for hurricane victims whose homes have yet to be repaired.
State Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher recommended the rule to protect
thousands of Floridians still waiting for storm repairs who would be uninsurable
if they lost their insurance coverage.
“We recognize that many homeowners are being told there is a substantial waiting
list for repairs, due to a shortage of contractors,” Gallagher said. “Without
this protection, homeowners who lost their insurance coverage would be
uninsurable. I applaud the governor and my fellow Cabinet members for making
sure that storm victims have property protection.”
The emergency rule, developed by the Office of Insurance Regulation, is
effective until Dec. 31st. It applies to all residential and commercial
residential properties and prohibits insurance companies from canceling
insurance policies until 60 days after repairs are complete.
“This is a very necessary measure to protect Floridians from becoming
uninsurable and the attendant problems that could follow such a situation,” said
Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty, who heads ups the Office of
Gallagher said he will ask the legislature to address this issue in next month’s
special session by giving insurance regulators the authority to protect
homeowners from losing coverage until storm repairs are complete.
Gallagher will also ask lawmakers to take steps to prevent consumers from being
charged large multiple hurricane deductibles when more than one storm strikes
Florida in a single season. The Office of Insurance Regulation reported that to
date, more than 29,000 Floridians have paid more than $50 million in second,
third and fourth deductibles.
A copy of the emergency rule is available at
ARREST MADE IN ATTEMPTED MURDER BY FIREBOMBING
After a four-month investigation, investigators with the State Fire Marshal’s
Office, Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations, arrested Shawn David Miller 26,
for his involvement in the apparent attempted murder in July of
seven people by firebombing at an occupied residence located at 811 Neuse Ave.
All of the occupants escaped uninjured.
The investigation found that Miller and several of his friends threw several
Molotov cocktails at the residence when they knew or should have known it would
be occupied by seven people, including a 10-month-old baby. Part of the crime
was captured by a video camera a neighbor had installed. The video showed
several firebombs being thrown at the front porch of the residence and a vehicle
parked in front of the residence being set on fire and pushed toward the house.
The people inside awoke to the commotion and escaped the burning residence. The
wood-framed house sustained irreparable fire damage and their vehicle was
Miller is charged with seven counts of attempted murder, firebombing, and
first-degree arson. He was taken to the Orange County Jail where he is being
held without bond. More arrests in the case are pending.
The Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations is the law enforcement branch of
Florida’s Division of State Fire Marshal, investigating possible criminal
activities related to fires and explosions. This bureau conducts approximately
7,000 investigations each year statewide involving major fires, explosions, and
arson-related incidents. The mission of the bureau is to effectively prevent,
discourage, investigate, and prosecute arson and arson related crimes for the
protection of Florida’s citizens and their property. The Bureau is responsible
for about 500 criminal arrests each year.
OF WORKERS KILLED AT JULY CONSTRUCTION-SITE ACCIDENT CHARGED WITH FRAUD
The employer of two workers killed in a July construction accident on a Hobe Sound work site has been arrested and charged with workers’ compensation fraud, Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher
According to investigators with the Department of Financial Services’
Division of Insurance Fraud,
Richard Meccariello, Jr., 39, of 3934 Sherwood Blvd. in Delray Beach was
accused of failing to provide workers’ compensation coverage, a third-degree
workers show up to perform a job, they deserve to be protected in case they
get injured. This terrible accident is a perfect example of why workers’
compensation is so important,” said Gallagher, who oversees DFS. “Employers
who don’t protect their workers will be held accountable.”
The department’s Division of Workers’
Compensation previously ordered two companies owned by Meccariello, Mac’s
Construction and Concrete, Inc., 848 Glouchester St. in Boca Raton, and
Mac’s Custom Construction, Inc., to stop work and cease all business
operations in Florida due to workers’ compensation violations. The
companies were also fined a total of $2.4 million. Under Florida law,
construction industry employers with one or more employees must provide
workers’ compensation coverage for their employees. At the time of the
accident in July, Meccariello employed at least seven workers without
Meccariello was booked into the Palm Beach County Jail with bond set at
$25,000. If convicted, Meccariello faces up to five years in prison.
CLINIC OWNER, ‘PATIENTS’
FACE INSURANCE FRAUD
A dozen individuals suspected of
organizing or participating in staged crashes and filing false insurance claims
were arrested by insurance fraud investigators with the Department of
Financial Services on insurance fraud charges.
individuals were charged under a new law that took effect October 1, 2003, that
made organizing or participating in a staged crash punishable by a statutory
minimum sentence of two years and as many as 15 years in prison. In a staged
crash, organizers and unscrupulous clinic owners target the personal injury
protection (PIP) insurance of drivers, and bill on average up to the maximum
$10,000 benefit per insured.
fraud dramatically drives up the cost of automobile insurance, making it harder
for Floridians to afford the coverage Florida law requires them to carry,” said
Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher, who oversees the Department of
Financial Services. “The law targeting staged crash organizers has helped our
investigators and prosecutors successfully pursue these scam artists.”
25 arrests have been made under the new law. In addition, in March the
department partnered with the Automobile Joint Underwriting Association and the
Miami-Dade State Attorney’s office to hire a dedicated PIP fraud prosecutor.
Just this year, the department has made193 arrests, up from 155 in 2003, and
dedicated prosecutor Nina Vivenzio has overseen more than 160 of this year’s
intend to file racketeering charges in some of these organized fraud clinic
cases in the future,” Vivenzio said. “It is a tremendous problem, and we need
to take tougher action against these criminals.”
Investigators with the department’s Division of Insurance Fraud said most of
those arrested today were patients at Miami Health & Life Medical Management,
Corp, a clinic located at 300 SW 107 Ave., Suite 206, Miami.
owner Rolando Martinez, 35, has been charged with 51 counts of insurance fraud,
51 counts of grand theft and one count of organized scheme to defraud in the
first degree, for false claims filed by the clinic in a 10-month period totaling
over $450,000. Martinez opened the clinic in late 2003.
arrests today included participants from two staged crashes accused of filing
more than $65,000 in fraudulent claims filed against two insurance companies.
Guerra, the alleged recruiter, Alina Mecias and Kenia Lopez are accused of
filing more than $38,000 in fraudulent claims stemming from an alleged staged
crash on May 12.
was previously arrested on October 21, 2004, for organizing another staged crash
on June 13. Carlos Ilarraza and Daryelis Olivares were arrested on charges
stemming from filing more than $27,000 in fraudulent claims in that staged
crash. Investigators said clinic owner Martinez knew the crash was staged and
instructed at least one of the patients on what to tell the doctor.
investigators also arrested several “patients” who allegedly signed for
treatment they never received. Investigators determined that fraudulent
claims were filed with their insurance companies in excess of $65,500. Those
charged are Alexander Arencibia, Juan Garcia, Esterlina Reyes, Magaly Rodriguez,
Zoraida Rosado, and Jose Tamayo.
Department of Financial Services, Division of Insurance Fraud, investigates
various forms of fraud in insurance, including health, life, auto, property and
workers' compensation insurance. Anyone with information about this case or
another possible fraud scheme should call the department's Fraud Busters Hotline
at 1-800-378-0445. A reward of up to $25,000 may be offered for information
leading to an arrest and conviction.