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FLORIDA CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER TOM GALLAGHER'S WEEKLY NEWSLETTER

Volume 2, Number 24, June 13, 2005    

Our law enforcement officers, firefighters and emergency response personnel are prepared to face a lot of risks when they respond to a call. But they are faced with a new risk that is hidden and insidious – and found in homes, backyard sheds, motel rooms and even vehicles.  

I am talking about clandestine methamphetamine labs. 

Both the process and the people involved in the manufacture of this highly addictive, illegal drug are dangerous and a threat to our communities. Methamphetamine, or meth, is manufactured using common household products, particularly over-the-counter cold medicines because they contain a key ingredient of the drug, ephedrine. 

The State Fire Marshal’s Office has responded to 29 fires or explosions at labs or involving meth lab operators.  I want to help keep our law enforcement and first responders throughout Florida safe. And I want to help stop the threat meth poses to our neighborhoods and our children.

To help fight the war on drugs, we are providing free training for first responders beginning this month at the Florida State Fire College, in a program that will cover numerous subjects from types of meth labs to how to investigate one. 

Lab operators, usually high on their own product, are prone to make mistakes. Mistakes are deadly -- to those on the frontline and the people they serve.

It's time to start a new fight against a drug that is tearing lives and families apart.

                     -- Tom Gallagher
 


GALLAGHER CHARGES METH LABS AS A 'TERRORIST' THREAT TO FLORIDA

Declaring meth labs a domestic terrorist threat to Florida’s first responders and citizens, Florida’s Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Tom Gallagher announced initiatives to protect Florida’s law enforcement officers, firefighters and emergency response personnel from the dangers they face when making arrests or investigating fires and explosions at illegal methamphetamine labs.
“The criminals who make meth are the equivalent to the makers of any terrorist bomb anywhere in the world.  These labs are a threat to the lives of first responders as they try to keep us safe and win the war on drugs,” Gallagher said.   “Methamphetamine addiction is a high-level threat to our communities, tearing apart families and destroying lives.”

Gallagher is joining forces with Commissioner Guy Tunnell, director of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, to promote specialized training on meth labs to fight back against a disturbing and rapidly rising trend.  A recent survey by the Drug Enforcement Administration found that the number of meth labs found in Florida jumped from 28 in 2001 to 332 in 2004.

 "These clandestine laboratories are a threat to the environment, a hazard to our communities, and a danger to the officers who seize them,” said FDLE Commissioner Tunnell.  “This integrated training effort is another important step in Florida's fight against meth.”

"Our law enforcement officers and firefighters face risks every time they respond to a call,” Gallagher said. “But meth labs are an especially
insidious risk because they are concealed in homes, sheds, motel rooms and even vehicles. Our first responders have no warning they are entering into a potentially fatal situation.

Detectives with the Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations, a law enforcement branch of the State Fire Marshal’s Office, recently responded to a meth lab near Fort Walton Beach that was booby-trapped with more than two dozen wired pipe bombs. The lab operator had installed escape doors leading out to nearby woods so he could leave to detonate the bombs.  Mobile meth labs built into truck beds and car trunks also are a threat.  The chemicals used to make meth are highly flammable accelerants that can explode and turn a small fire into an inferno in an instant.    The State Fire Marshal’s Office has responded to fires and explosions at 29 meth labs in the last three years. 
     
As a result of these experiences, the State Fire Marshal’s Office is providing free training for first responders later this month on how to identify, investigate and dismantle labs used to manufacture methamphetamine.     
                  
Methamphetamine is manufactured using common household products, particularly over-the-counter cold medicines containing ephedrine.  The Legislature passed a measure this year, sponsored by Rep. Greg Evers and Sen. Durrell Peaden, restricting the sale of over-the-counter products containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine.  The legislation also provides minimum mandatory sentences for those who expose children to the hazards of a meth lab, adds new penalties for meth lab operators who injure law enforcement officers responding to labs, and enhances safety guidelines for the storage and transportation of anhydrous ammonia, another chemical commonly used in the manufacture of meth.

"This legislation will help get to the root of the escalating meth crisis by restricting access to the main ingredient used to make meth – ephedrine,” Evers said. 

Gallagher applauded the Legislature for these strong measures and said he would ask next year that lawmakers extend criminal penalties for injuries to firefighters and other response personnel incurred while responding to emergencies involving meth labs
.

Methamphetamine produces a more potent and longer-lasting high than crack cocaine, and the manufacture, distribution and use of methamphetamine is on the rise throughout Florida.  According to FDLE statistics, the greatest concentrations of meth labs are found in the Panhandle and Central Florida.

“Our office has been involved in more than 150 lab busts and arrested more than 1,500 individuals involved in meth production, distribution and use,” said Holmes County Deputy Sheriff Eddie Ingram.  “We have learned that aggressive education and training efforts are critical to protecting those on the front line in shutting down these labs.”

Exact figures on first responder injuries and deaths are hard to collect but according to recent reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), injuries and deaths for first responders dealing with clandestine meth labs are on the rise. Methamphetamine-related events recorded by the Hazardous Substances Emergency Events Surveillance (HSEES) system increased from 184 in 2000 to 320 in June, 2004, totaling 1,791 events in the 16 states, including Florida. These events resulted in almost 960 injuries to police officers, firefighters and other first-responders.  The most frequent injuries were respiratory irritation, eye irritation, and burns, but nine deaths were also reported.  The DEA reported more than 13,000 seizures of meth lab and meth lab materials in 2003 alone. 

The training being offered in Florida is a model for the rest of the nation. More than 150 officers and firefighters from throughout Florida and from other states, including New York and Illinois, have signed up for the training courses June 21-23 and June 28-30 at the Florida State Fire College in Ocala.  Instructors will be provided by the Multi-Jurisdictional Counter Drug Task Force -a partnership between the Florida National Guard and St. Petersburg College.  The training will cover numerous topics from the types of laboratory operations to evidence collection. 

Also joining Gallagher at the press conference in support of the new initiatives were Colonel Chris Knight, Florida Highway Patrol; Fire Chief Les Hallman, South Walton Fire District; Assistant Fire Chief Gary Jordan, North Bay Fire District, and Mark Cutcliffe, Resident Agent-in-Charge, Drug Enforcement Administration.   Other organizations supporting Gallagher’s efforts include the Florida Professional Firefighters Association, Florida Fire Chiefs Association, Florida Fire Marshals and Inspectors Association, and the Florida Sheriffs Association.


GALLAGHER ANNOUNCES STATEWIDE ARREST SWEEP BY INSURANCE FRAUD INVESTIGATORS

28 ARRESTED FOR VIOLATIONS OF WORKERS’ COMPENSATION LAWS 

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher announced 28 arrests in a three-day statewide sweep of suspects arrested for violations of workers’ compensation laws.  The sweep is the latest move in a campaign to root out those who cheat the workers compensation system, thus making it more expensive for honest employers to obtain coverage.  The investigations and the arrests were carried out by detectives from the Division of Insurance Fraud, Bureau of Workers’ Compensation Fraud, in the Department of Financial Services, which Gallagher oversees.   

“Florida employers have seen their workers’ compensation premiums drop for two years in a row and much of the credit for this relief goes to the Division of Insurance Fraud and the Division of Workers’ Compensation,” Gallagher said.  “Employers and employees who cheat the system are stealing from those who play by the rules and putting them at a competitive disadvantage.  We will continue our aggressive efforts to stamp out fraud and help save employers money.” 

The majority of the suspects were arrested in the early morning hours at their residences.  The 28 individuals were arrested on a variety of counts including submitting fraudulent workers’ compensation claims, forging workers’ compensation documents or exemptions, violating orders to stop work until adequate coverage is obtained, and failure to secure coverage.  Most of those arrested are facing third-degree felony charges, which carry a penalty of up to five years in prison per count.  However, some individuals are facing charges that carry up to 30 years in prison, and some are on probation for prior violations. 

Among those arrested was a claimant who alleged he was disabled following a 1993 on-the-job injury at Georgia Pacific Co.  Jimmy Carr, 50, of Jacksonville, stated that he had to use crutches, a cane, a buggy or a wheel chair, and has been able to walk only in his yard or house without using one of these devices.  But he was captured on surveillance video removing a basketball stand out of a truck and then shooting baskets.  Carr is also captured on video standing on his own to take a wheelchair out of the rear of a vehicle and then sitting in it.  He has collected more than $800,000 in insurance benefits. 

Also arrested this week was a former insurance agent on probation who continued to conduct insurance business under various unregistered company names – Blue Ocean Insurance Inc., MSG Consulting, G&G Consulting, or Grason Insurance Agency.  Detectives said that on at least 20 documented occasions, Michael Stephen Grason, 65, of Winter Park, presented or caused others to present fraudulent documents to state workers’ compensation compliance investigators, contractors and others as “verification” of workers compensation coverage.

This week’s sweep is the department’s latest effort to clean up the workers’ compensation system.  In April, investigators from the Division of Workers’ Compensation conducted construction site sweeps in three Florida cities and made contact with over 900 businesses.  Over 200 businesses or individuals were issued Stop Work Orders or ordered to produce records. 

So far this fiscal year, the Division of Insurance Fraud, Bureau of Workers’ Compensation Fraud, has presented more than 213 cases for prosecutions and made more than 170 arrests that so far have resulted in 96 convictions.

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 Hotline at 1-800-378-0445.  A reward of up to $25,000 may be offered for information leading to an arrest and conviction.

Following is a list of those arrested this week:
 

DFS WORKERS’ COMP FRAUD SWEEP ARRESTS 

Timothy Dore, 30, 2132 Randor Road, Juno Beach – Presenting fraudulent workers compensation exemption form, failure to secure payment of workers’ compensation insurance.

Michael S. Grason, 65, 4333 Woodtree Lane, Orlando – Workers’ compensation insurance fraud.

Barbara J. Martin, 40, 191 Woodrich Road, Crawfordville – Failure to secure payment of workers’ compensation insurance.

Sharon Meyer, 48, 16628 89th Place N., Loxahatchee – Workers’ compensation fraud, grand theft second-degree.

Charles Michael Rucker, 50, 9309 Tuscany Drive, Tallahassee – Failure to secure payment of workers’ compensation insurance.

Renee Coates McNeill, 48, 6709 Visalia Place, Tallahassee – Workers’ compensation fraud, forgery, and uttering a forged document.

Lee Moore, 47, 337 Baker Drive, West Palm Beach – Working without workers’ compensation insurance.

Henry Norman, 43, West Palm Beach – Working without workers’ compensation.

Jimmy Carr, 52, 21121 N. Highway 441, McIntosh – Workers’ compensation fraud.

Christina S. Schlusemeyer, 63, 8000 NW 121st Ave., Ocala – Workers’ compensation fraud.

Adrian Schexnaider, 48, last known address 2665 Bayshore Parkway, Milton – Workers’ compensation fraud.

Roy John Tegtmeier, 51, 14280 Gorham Road, Pensacola – Workers’ compensation fraud, uttering a forged document

Philip W. Whitehead, 27, 803 Gregory Drive, Casselberry – Workers’ compensation fraud, perjury.

Carlos Trejos, 35, 325 NW 72nd Ave., #306, Miami – Failure to secure payment of workers’ compensation insurance.

John C. Carrera, 53, 12261 SW 94th St., Miami ­– Workers’ compensation fraud, second-degree grand theft, and perjury.

James Lee Vergho, 47, 900 NW 10th St., Homestead ­– Failure to secure payment of workers’ compensation insurance.

Hector M. Gonzalez, 44, 831 NW 132nd Place, Miami – Uttering a forged instrument.

Jay David Marks, 55, 19255 NE 10th Ave., #417, Miami – Workers’ compensation fraud by false document.

Alina S.F. Jones, 25, 1600 NW 4th Ave., #16-D, Miami – Workers’ compensation fraud by false document.

Adolfo Villaraos, 62, 6140 SW 27th St., Miami – Failure to secure payment of workers’ compensation insurance.

Jorge Manuel Zaragozi, 48, 420 SW 18th Terrace, Miami ­– Failure to secure payment of workers’ compensation insurance.

Jorge Antonio Lara, 39, 14255 SW 290th Terrace, Miami – Failure to secure payment of workers’ compensation insurance.

Modesto Fernandez, 35, 7230 W. 14th Court, Hialeah – Failure to secure payment of workers’ compensation insurance.

Giovanni Picanno, 57, last known address 731 NE Carnival Ave., Port St. Lucie – Violation of Stop Work Order

David Hadden, 38, 202 Essex Drive, Ft. PierceFailure to secure payment of workers’ compensation insurance.

Kenneth Sylvia, 42, 742 Flamingo Way, North Palm Beach – Presenting a fraudulent certificate of insurance.

Naser Abueqab, 38, 1105 SW 2nd St., Okeechobee – Failure to secure payment of workers’ compensation insurance.

Robert L. Baker, 59, 1823 NW 14th St., Ocala – Workers’ compensation fraud


OPERATORS OF UNLICENSED ENTITY TRG MARKETING, LLC, PLEAD GUILTY, ACCEPT PRISON SENTENCES

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher announced that the operators behind one of the most extensive and costliest insurance fraud schemes in Florida have agreed to accept prison terms and make restitution for their roles in the operation of an unlicensed health insurance plan that left more than 7,200 Floridians with millions of dollars in unpaid medical claims.

Carmelo Zanfei and William Paul Crouse, who operated Indiana-based TRG Marketing, LLC, pleaded guilty this week to felony charges in the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court.  Zanfei pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit racketeering, and Crouse pleaded guilty to racketeering.  Both men also pleaded guilty to four counts of unlawful transaction of insurance.  As part of their plea agreements, Zanfei will be sentenced to two years in prison and Crouse will be sentenced to four years in prison.  Both defendants will also be sentenced to 20 years of supervised probation and restitution is expected to be at least $2.8 million.  They faced up to 60 years in prison if convicted.  The Office of Statewide Prosecution prosecuted the charges.

"This is a major victory in our ongoing fight against unlicensed insurance operators who prey on Floridians," said Gallagher, who oversees the Department of Financial Services and the Division of Insurance Fraud, which conducted the investigation that led to the charges.  “Through education and prosecution we have hope of ending this scourge.”

Cindy Baker, of Okeechobee, told detectives that her husband killed himself because he was distraught over unpaid claims and credit damage that resulted when TRG refused to cover Ms. Baker after she had major surgery in 2001. 

Richard Baer, a small business owner in Deerfield Beach, enrolled in the TRG plan and then incurred medical expenses in excess of $45,000 as the result of open heart surgery.  TRG failed to pay any of the claims.

Teresa Orr, of Monteverde, Fla., was left with $250,000 in unpaid claims stemming from her late husband’s cancer treatment that they thought would be covered by TRG. Pete Orr, a NASCAR-circuit driver, died of cancer in 2002 with bills piled up because TRG refused to pay his health care bills.  Mrs. Orr has steadfastly declared that she believes her husband died because he could not get timely access to medical care he needed.

Orr’s death and the story of the family’s financial hardship led to the passage of the "Pete Orr Bill" in 2003.  Senate Bill 1680 significantly increased criminal penalties for individuals who operate an unlicensed insurance entity and gave victims the right
to civilly sue such operators and their unlicensed entities.

Since February 2001, investigations by the Department of Financial Services have led to orders to shut down being issued against 18 unlicensed entities in Florida, and administrative actions or criminal charges against more than 200 insurance agents and unlicensed entity operators.  Investigations are continuing.

More than 30,000 Floridians have reported being left with unpaid claims as a result of being duped, many by their agents, into buying coverage from unlicensed entities. Because these entities are not licensed in Florida, there are no assurances of their ability to pay claims.

The charges against Zanfei and Crouse were based upon their marketing of the health plan to citizens of Florida and 43 other states without seeking a certificate of authority to sell the plan in any of these states, claiming that the self-insured plan was exempt from the licensing and certification requirements of state law.  The health plan was insufficiently funded and failed to pay millions of dollars of claims resulting in tremendous damage to the citizens who believed they had valid health insurance.

Although the health plan was illegally marketed in 43 other states, Florida was the only state to seek criminal charges. 

Employers, health care professionals and individuals shopping for insurance coverage are urged to check with the department to be sure they are dealing with a Florida-licensed insurance company and a Florida-licensed insurance agent.

To check on the license status of a company or agent, consumers should visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com, and click on Verify Before You Buy, or call the Department of Financial Services' Helpline at 1-800-342-2762.
 


TROPICAL STORM ARLENE THREATENED GULF COAST

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher urged residents along the Gulf Coast to get ready for a possible strike by Tropical Storm Arlene last weekend. Gallagher mobilized consumer specialists with the Department of Financial Services to assist any residents impacted by the storm. 

“Thousands of Floridians are still waiting for repairs to be made from the 2004 hurricanes and I’m deeply concerned that this tropical storm will inflict further damage,” said Gallagher, who oversees the department.  “Floridians in the Panhandle have shown incredible resilience and strength since Ivan devastated their communities.  Our department stands ready to assist them in any way we can.” 

Gallagher also advised that residents can contact the department’s toll-free storm line at 1-800-22-STORM with insurance questions or for assistance with filing claims should a storm hit.

The National Hurricane Center reported Friday that a tropical storm warning was in effect for the Dry Tortugas and the Gulf Coast.  A tropical storm warning means that heavy rains and winds up to 74 mph are possible in the area. Residents should also be on alert for inland flooding.
 

Gallagher recommends that property owners take the following actions in the event of severe weather damage:  

  • Buy the materials you need to secure your property and   minimize your losses. Cover your windows with shutters, siding or plywood. Move vehicles into a garage or carport when possible. Grills and/or patio furniture should be moved inside.

  • If you need cash, consider withdrawing what you need because ATMs and financial institutions cannot do transactions when the electricity is out.

  • If your home is damaged or is currently awaiting repairs, take steps to protect your home from further damage and document the current state of your home with photos or video. 

  • Keep receipts of all repairs for reimbursement by your insurance company.

  • Immediately report property damage or any additional damage to your insurance agent and company.

  • Write down the name, address and claims-reporting telephone number of your insurance company.  If you must evacuate, 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 and repair people.

  • If considering the assistance of a public insurance adjuster, verify that the adjuster is licensed by calling the department’s toll-free consumer helpline at 1-800-22-STORM, or 1-800-227-8676. 

In the event of severe damage, adjusters may contact policyholders to help with the filing of insurance or supplemental insurance claims.  Adjusters must be licensed by the state and should be able to present a copy of their license.

For more hurricane preparation tips, visit the Department of Financial Services’ web site at www.MyFloridaCFO.com.
 


FLORIDA OFFICE OF INSURANCE REGULATION ANNOUNCES PUBLIC HEARING REGARDING CINCINNATI HOMEOWNERS’ RATE REQUEST

The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation has announced a public hearing regarding a proposed rate increase filed by Cincinnati Indemnity Company and Cincinnati Insurance Company. The rate filing is for Cincinnati’s Homeowners Insurance Programs.

Cincinnati’s filing requests an average statewide rate increase of 36.7%. The average rate change varies by county from 0% in Hardee, Lafayette and Okeechobee counties to 40.4% in St. Johns County. A list of average county rate changes is included with this notice.

The Florida Administrative Code (Rule 69O-166.051, F.A.C.) requires a public hearing to be held when a rate filing exceeds 25%. Cincinnati’s rate filing meets this criteria.

All Cincinnati policyholders and interested parties are invited to attend the hearing. The hearing will take place from 4-7 p.m., on Wednesday, June 22, 2005 at the Sarasota-Bradenton International Convention Center on 8005 15th St. East in Sarasota due to the high number of affected policyholders in that area.

A copy of the hearing agenda will be posted on the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation website at www.MyFloridaCFO.com/companies/.

For more information on this hearing, please call the Florida Department of Financial Services Consumer Helpline at 1-800-342-2762.

Pursuant to the provisions of the Americans With Disabilities Act, any person requiring special accommodations to participate in this hearing should advise the Office of Insurance Regulation at least 5 calendar days before the hearing, by contacting the number listed above.



Consumer Services HelpLine
(800) 342-2762.