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

Volume 2, Number 35, August 29, 2005  

I'm deeply concerned for residents in South Florida and the Panhandle who just got hit by our sixth hurricane in just over a year. 

In South Florida, they are dealing with intense flooding from a storm that unexpectedly turned into a hurricane before coming on shore late Thursday night.  People in the Panhandle who are still recovering from hurricanes Ivan and Dennis got hit again by category 4 Hurricane Katrina today. 
 

But reports are that our neighbors in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana bore the brunt and we offer our prayers and support.  The Department of Financial Services and the State Fire Marshal’s Office are on standby to send any personnel and equipment they may need in their recovery efforts. 

A big part of what makes Florida great is the people who live here.. We will get through this storm because, ultimately, our people are stronger than any storm.   

The department is here to help.  If you need assistance filing a claim, call our storm hotline at 1-800-22-STORM. 

                     -- Tom Gallagher


GALLAGHER UPDATES RECOVERY EFFORTS IN THE WAKE OF HURRICANE KATRINA

Florida’s State Fire Marshal Tom Gallagher said two dozen law enforcement officers from the State Fire Marshal’s Office are heading to Pensacola to help with recovery efforts in the wake of hurricane Katrina.  They will be joining officers from the Fish and Wildlife Commission, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the Department of Transportation’s Motor Carrier Compliance Program. 

“It is heartbreaking to see the people of Northwest Florida suffering all over again,” said Gallagher.  “Helping the people of Pensacola and surrounding areas affected by Katrina is our first priority.  In addition, we will offer any addition resources available to help our neighbors along the Gulf Coast.  We know firsthand what the people of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama are going through right now, and I know all Floridians join me in sending our thoughts and prayers out to them.”

As State Fire Marshal, Gallagher is responsible for mobilizing search and rescue efforts at the state Emergency Operations Center during an emergency.  In addition to personnel already heading to Pensacola, the State Fire Marshal’s Office is coordinating the mobilization of search and rescue teams from around Florida to the Panhandle area.

Gallagher also said the Division of Consumer Services is on standby to send insurance consumer specialists if needed to assist consumers with contacting their insurance companies and filing claims.  And law enforcement officers with the Division of Insurance Fraud also are gearing up to respond if necessary.

With reports of more than 80,000 Escambia County residents now without power, and more than 300,000 South Florida residents still without power, Gallagher is continuing to urge Floridians follow these safety tips after the storm.

  • If you use a generator, keep it outside and in a well-ventilated area because generators produce carbon monoxide.  If you put it in the garage, keep the garage door open.

  • Beware of downed power lines, especially near water- to avoid risk of electrocution.

  • If your house is damaged, shut electricity off at the breakers.

  • Do not drive through floodwaters or on flooded roads.  If your vehicle stalls, leave it immediately and seek higher ground.  Water only two feet deep can sweep away most cars.

The department’s hurricane hotline, at 1-800-22-STORM, has been activated to help with questions and assist consumers in filing a claim.


TAMPA BAY CLINIC OWNERS ARRESTED FOR ‘SELLING’ PATIENTS

Gallagher: Insurance Fraud Investigators Caught Them on Tape Taking Payoffs

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher announced the arrests of five Tampa-area clinic owners, and the issuance of a warrant for another, for “selling” patients, most of whom were accident victims, to diagnostic facilities that then billed auto insurers thousands of dollars.

“This crime costs Florida’s hardworking families every time they pay their insurance premiums,” Gallagher said.  “It also jeopardizes the care the patients get when they are sold to the highest bidder.”

Today’s arrests were the result of a joint investigation by the Department of Financial Services, Division of Insurance Fraud; the Florida Department of Law Enforcement; the Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office, Economic Crimes Division; and the National Insurance Crime Bureau.  As CFO, Gallagher oversees the Department of Financial Services and the Division of Insurance Fraud.  In March, Gallagher went along as insurance fraud detectives arrested 13 individuals, including three Tampa clinic owners, on similar charges. 

In this latest investigation, insurance fraud detectives caught clinic owners on undercover audio and videotape taking payments from MRI facility owners for the referral of patients. The investigation revealed that some of the clinic owners engaged in this type of patient brokering scheme for several months, collecting thousands of dollars in referral fees.  Those arrested today were: 

Alan Felker, chiropractor and owner of Felker Clinic, for accepting a $1,000 payoff.

Sandra Kilpatrick, owner of University Medical Clinic, for accepting a $1,000 payoff.

Yussel Cabrera, owner of DMJ Clinic, for accepting a $500 payoff.

Elisa Valdez, owner of Cemar Clinic, for accepting an $800 payoff.

James Lee, owner of Bayside Clinic, for accepting a $2,000 payoff.

A warrant has been issued for Pedro Cabo, owner of Pro Med Clinic.

The investigation revealed that many diagnostic companies were paying the fee in order to get the business and the ability to bill the patients’ auto insurance carriers, under the Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage, anywhere from $800 to $1,000 per patient for the MRIs. Florida’s drivers are required by law to carry a minimum of $10,000 in PIP coverage.

The clinic owners arrested today could face up to five years in state prison if convicted on the patient brokering charge, a third-degree felony.  They all were booked into the Hillsborough County Jail. 

The department has made almost 1,000 PIP fraud-related arrests in the last five years, and those schemes billed insurers for more than $27 million.  That cost gets passed on to Florida consumers through higher premiums.

“We will continue to aggressively investigate and seek jail time for those who commit insurance fraud,” Gallagher said.  More arrests are anticipated in this case.

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 Anti-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.
 


CABINET APPROVES PURCHASE OF THE HARRIS SCHOOL IN THE KEYS

The governor and members of the Cabinet unanimously approved the $5.4 million purchase of the Harris School from the Monroe County school board.  To keep the acquisition from being rejected, Tom Gallagher recommended the purchase be made with one condition – that $5 million of the purchase be used for affordable housing for teachers.  As many who live in the Keys know, affordable housing is at a premium.  In fact, median housing prices are more than twice the state average. 

As an area of critical state concern, issues important to the Keys such as housing, wastewater, habitat protection and even hurricane evacuation must be addressed.

The plan to use the Harris School as an artist colony is innovative.  Equally important is maximizing the resources of the Monroe County School District to provide affordable housing for teachers, who play a vital role in helping schools deliver a quality education to students.  
 


GALLAGHER ADVISES FLORIDIANS TO DESIGNATE EMERGENCY CONTACTS ON CELL PHONES

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Tom Gallagher is urging residents to identify emergency contacts on their cell phones.

As State Fire Marshal, Gallagher oversees search and rescue functions at Florida’s Emergency Operations Center.  He is recommending cell phone users put the acronym ICE, an abbreviation for "in case of emergency," before the names of people they want to be contacted on their behalf in an emergency.  The idea was developed by a British paramedic, and the idea is spreading across the nation.

“This simple step could help emergency workers ensure you get proper medical care and at the same time quickly connect you with your family in an emergency,” said Gallagher.  

An ICE entry could look like this: “ICE – Ann,” or “ICE – Mom.” Gallagher said you could also designate the order by entering ICE 1, ICE 2 and so on.

This could save paramedics, police and firefighters valuable time trying to figure out which name in a cell phone to call.  First responders have reported calling an elderly parent who was not well and should not have received such a call.

For hurricane preparation tips, visit the Department of Financial Services’ web site at www.MyFloridaCFO.com.  For assistance after the storm, call the department’s storm helpline at 1-800-22-STORM.


GALLAGHER ANNOUNCES ARREST OF MIAMI MAN FOR SELLING WORTHLESS HURRICANE INSURANCE 

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher announced the arrest of Allen E. Weintraub, 40, of Miami, for selling worthless hurricane insurance to at least 45 consumers.  Weintraub set up an unlicensed operation called Global Insurance Group and collected more than $100,000 for non-existent windstorm insurance.  Three weeks ago, Gallagher warned Floridians to beware that Global was selling bogus policies.

Weintraub was booked into the Miami-Dade County Jail early today on 45 counts of grand theft and 45 counts of transacting insurance activity without a certificate of authorization, in addition to one count of organizing a scheme to defraud.  Bond was set at $510,000.

“I applaud our fraud detectives for moving quickly to put this scam operator behind bars,” said Gallagher, who oversees the Department of Financial Services’ Division of Insurance Fraud.  “Selling bogus hurricane insurance to people in the middle of hurricane season is reprehensible.  I am relieved that we were able to shut this scheme down before more Floridians were defrauded and left vulnerable to storms.” 

Weintraub used licensed agents to sell his bogus policies to homeowners and businesses. In one case, the agent cancelled legitimate insurance and switched to a Global policy.  Gallagher said that Floridians dealing with a licensed agent should still verify that the company offering coverage is licensed.   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’s helpline at 1-800-342-2762.

Weintraub’s arrest, at his multi-million dollar home in Golden Beach, follows on the heels of recent action taken against him by the Securities and Exchange Commission which barred him from the securities industry and ordered him to pay more than $1 million in restitution and fines. 

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



Consumer Services HelpLine
(800) 342-2762.