Consumer eViews
FLORIDA CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER TOM GALLAGHER'S WEEKLY NEWSLETTER

Volume 2, Number 9, February 28, 2005    

Town hall meetings to assist Floridians who are still recovering from last year’s hurricanes have been scheduled during the next two weeks.  The first meeting will be held Wednesday, March 2nd, in Pensacola at the Pensacola Civic Center at 201 East Gregory Street, with additional meetings scheduled in Sebastian, Punta Gorda and Orlando.

Hurricane victims who are still struggling to settle insurance claims are urged to attend one of these meetings. The Department of Financial Services wants to direct all available resources to getting storm victims’ lives back to normal.

Consumer specialists will be available to work with policyholders individually. 

The town hall dates and locations are: 

Thursday, March 10, 2005, 5 p.m. - 9 p.m.
Sebastian River Middle School, 9400 County Road 512, Sebastian

Saturday, March 12, 2005, 9 a.m. to noon
Sallie Jones Elementary School, 1230 Narranja St., Punta Gorda

Saturday, March 19, 2005, 9 a.m. to noon
Dr. Phillips High School, 6500 Turkey Lake Road, Orlando

For more information, call the Department of Financial Services’ storm hotline at 1-800-22-STORM or log on to www.MyFloridaCFO.com.

My best,           

                      -- Tom Gallagher


NORTHWEST FLORIDA LEGISLATIVE DAY AT THE CAPITOL 

Tallahassee is a meeting place for visitors from all over the state when state legislators are in town. Last Wednesday was Northwest Florida Legislative Day with many counties, cities, chambers of commerce, educational institutions, Native Americans and a long list of private industry groups presenting their visions to the legislature and the community.  

An urban warrior robot sat ready in the rotunda, exo-skeletal underwater dive gear stood like medieval armor and an OZ flight simulator/cockpit display invited a test.  

These creations are a part of the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, a university-affiliated research organization whose innovative scientists were on hand to discuss their work. 

CFO Tom Gallagher was introduced to cutting-edge human/machine collaboration. Anil K. Raj, M.D., a reasearch scientist with IHMC, took him into a sensory awareness of direction and mass using nerves in the tongue. With a flat computer cable held in his mouth, impulses were sent to reflect the view of a camera. Light coming in on different sensory channels translated into sensations on the tongue. From this information, the brain could figure out how to react, like a GPS working as part of the sensory system.       

While navigating a vehicle in a combat situation, a map would not be needed. A visually-impaired person could distinguish shapes, faces, depth and even catch a ball rolled across a table.  

IHMC described Raj’s research in these terms, in the IHMC newsletter, Volume 2, Issue 1. “In dynamic environments such as aviation, most information is presented to a single sensory channel, typically visual. This reliance frequently leads to mishaps due to loss of situation awareness.  Raj and coworkers developed multi-sensory displays using tactile transducers to improve situation awareness. Pilots using these systems can perform complex maneuvers while blindfolded. In addition, performance under high stress and workload conditions improved.”


JACKSONVILLE MAN INDICTED IN EMPLOYEE LEASING SCAM

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher and United States Attorney Paul I. Perez announced a 23-count indictment against the former owner and operator of a now-defunct professional employee organization that left thousands of workers in several states without workers compensation coverage despite collecting millions in premiums.

Tom King, 41, of Jacksonville, allegedly collected $5.8 million in worker’s compensation coverage for illegal, fraudulent and unauthorized coverage. The indictment is the result of a lengthy investigation by the Department of Financial Services, Division of Insurance Fraud, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark B. Devereaux is prosecuting the charges. If convicted on all 23 counts, King faces up to 160 years in prison and a fine of $5.7 million.

"Worker's compensation fraud puts workers at serious risk and wreaks havoc with our economy. Injured workers and their families pay the ultimate price, but we all pay through higher premiums and higher costs for goods and services, including costs for emergency rooms where uninsured injured workers end up," said Gallagher, who oversees the Department of Financial Services. "The department is pleased that we were able to help the U.S. Attorney's office get this indictment. These allegations, if true, must be dealt with swiftly and severely."

The indictment charges that Miralink, formerly headquartered in Jacksonville, represented to clients that the employees were covered by Regency Insurance of the West Indies, Ltd., located in Capistrano Beach, Calif. It is alleged that Regency was not authorized to sell insurance in Florida, that the coverage they sold was fraudulent, and that Miralink knew there was no real coverage.

“This very important prosecution demonstrates the efforts of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the State of Florida’s Division of Insurance Fraud and the United States Attorney’s Office to protect citizens from insurance fraud and its tragic consequences,” said United States Attorney Paul I. Perez.

The 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.
 


TAMPA MAN SENTENCED IN SECURITIES, INSURANCE AND MAIL FRAUD CASE

FLORIDA OFFICE OF FINANCIAL REGULATION INVESTIGATION LEADS TO $7 MILLION RESTITUTION ORDER FOR VICTIMS 

A Tampa man has been sentenced on charges he sold phony bonds, claiming the bonds carried a financial guarantee.  The bonds were sold to over 200 people, primarily in the Tampa Bay area.  The Florida Office of Financial Regulation (OFR) announced that Ralph B. Plummer, 63, has been sentenced to 24 months in prison to be followed by 24 months of supervised release.  He must also pay $7.7 million in restitution to the victims of the scam.

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher praised the work of the OFR investigators who worked the case in conjunction with a variety of federal agencies. “We cannot allow those who perpetrate these scams to escape justice.  Floridians who are lured into these phony investments need to know we will aggressively prosecute those who sold the bogus products.” 

Plummer pled guilty to charges of securities, insurance and mail fraud in September 2003.  The charges resulted from Plummer, as president of Financial Capital Company of America (FCCA), selling secured corporation notes to fund the construction of Christian vacation resorts in Tennessee.  

FCCA misrepresented that it had $280 million in assets; however, it had actually rented T-bills and certificates of deposit but had no access to any cash from these vehicles.  Plummer was brought in as a result of a joint OFR investigation with the U.S. Attorney's Office, the IRS, the FBI and the US Postal Inspection Service.
   


GALLAGHER TO PALM BAY TORNADO VICTIMS: STATE’S STORM HOTLINE READY TO ASSIST

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher is urging residents in Palm Bay whose homes were damaged by Sunday’s tornado to call the Department of Financial Services’ storm hotline at 1-800-22-STORM if they need help checking the licensure of an adjuster or filing an insurance claim. 

A tornado with winds of up to 112 mph struck Palm Bay late Sunday afternoon, damaging at least two dozen homes and leaving as many as 14 uninhabitable, according to local law enforcement reports. 

 
“Our consumer specialists are available to help answer questions about insurance adjusters or what steps to take before an adjuster arrives,” Gallagher said.  “I would especially urge residents to be particularly wary if any adjuster or contractor demands cash and to read and understand contracts before signing.”
 

Gallagher recommends that property owners take the following actions if they suffered tornado damage:

  •   Make emergency repairs to protect from further damage, document the damage and repairs in writing, and with receipts and photos.

  • Immediately report property damage to your insurance agent and company.
  • Gather copies of your household inventory and other documentation, including photos.  This will assist the adjuster in assessing the value of the destroyed property.
  • If you must leave your home because of the damage, let your agent or insurance company know your temporary forwarding address and phone number.
  • Beware of fly-by-night repair businesses. Hire licensed and reputable service people. 
  • If considering the assistance of a public insurance adjuster, verify that they are licensed by calling the department’s storm hotline.
  • Be sure you understand how much a public insurance adjuster is charging and what services are included before signing any contract.


Consumer Services HelpLine
(800) 342-2762.