Volume 3, Number 7, February 13, 2006
Our state, our citizens and our insurance market suffered considerable damage in the wake of eight hurricanes that battered Florida in less than 15 months. Hurricane recovery and insurance reform continue to be the most important issues facing most Floridians, and are my top priority this legislative session.
My proposals, including standardizing our state building codes and providing incentives to help Floridians hurricane-proof their homes, are gaining widespread support in the Legislature. Many have been incorporated into legislation sponsored by House Insurance Chairman Dennis Ross, Representative Don Brown and others, including protecting homeowners from subsidizing losses in Citizens Property Insurance, refocusing the insurer of last resort’s mission, and limiting the size and financial impact that Citizens has on Florida homeowners.
I also remain committed to lobbying state lawmakers to provide rate relief for homeowners and to return sales tax revenue to Floridians to offset the burden of insurance assessments.
At the federal level, I am calling on Congress to establish a national catastrophe fund and to create Catastrophic Savings Accounts to help Floridians save money tax-free to cover hurricane deductibles or expenses. Key members of Congress, including Representatives Ginny Brown-Waite, Clay Shaw and Tom Feeney, deserve kudos for tackling these important issues on behalf of Floridians.
I urge my fellow Floridians to contact their state and federal representatives and let them know you support reforms that will help improve the availability and affordability of property insurance in our state.
-- Tom Gallagher
MESSAGE FROM TOM GALLAGHER: BEWARE OF PREDATORY LENDERS
In 2002, we worked to combat predatory lending practices with the Florida Fair Lending Act, which prohibits aggressive and deceptive loan tactics including charging prepayment penalties for longer than three years and refinancing a loan during the first 18 months without a benefit to the borrower. The Act also prevents lenders from increasing interest on loans and charging late fees that exceed five percent of the payment.
My office followed up in the spring of 2003 with public education forums around the state with consumer advocacy groups to share the new protections available under the law.
Other things you should consider when applying for a loan are the number and dollar amount of the payments, the length of the loan, and terms such as balloon payment and prepayment penalty, and fixed or adjustable rate. Shop around with at least three reputable brokers and lenders.
Always ask for a Good Faith Estimate – this will provide you with a reasonable estimate of the closing costs at the time of your application. You may also want to consider
locking in your interest rate at the time of loan application so that your interest rate will not increase while your loan is being processed.
Ask questions about the terms of the loan, and check the contract to confirm that the terms you have discussed are clearly written in the loan documents.
Read the entire mortgage contract carefully, and make sure you fully understand your obligations and all provisions of the contract before signing. Television or direct mail ads claiming you can qualify for a loan based on your home equity should be carefully researched.
BARTOW BUSINESS OWNER FACING FRAUD CHARGES
MULTI-AGENCY TASKFORCE ANNOUNCES DETAILS OF OPERATION MONEY TRAIL
Operation Money Trail is a year-long, ongoing investigation into a multi-million dollar scheme to launder money through bogus shell construction companies, and undermine the ability of honest workers and construction companies to compete throughout South Florida.
“This was a large-scale, highly organized scheme,” said Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher, who oversees the Department of Financial Services and Division of Insurance Fraud. “Those involved in this scam should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
According to investigators, the first step in the conspiracy included setting up bogus construction companies. These companies had no employees, no equipment, and their owners never had any intention of building anything but their own bank accounts. These fake companies would obtain worker’s compensation insurance, and head out into the workplace to take work away from legitimate laborers working for legitimate construction companies.
As a result of Operation Money Trail, approximately $1,000,000 has been frozen in several accounts, and approximately $950,000 in cash has been seized.
The contractor would be asked to write a substantial check to the shell company for work the shell company never had any intention of doing. The representatives of the shell companies would then take that check to a check cashing store. The check cashing store would cash the check made out to what was known to be a bogus company, and take a 5% cut of the total for itself. Then the store would give the cash to the bogus company. The bogus company would also take a cut of the money, but then give the remainder back to the original contractor who wrote the check. That contractor would then arrange for under-the-table laborers to be hired to do the work, and keep the remainder of the cash.
“This type of conspiracy hurts every honest person working hard to try to makes ends meet,” said Broward County Sheriff Ken Jenne. “Legitimate workers, many of them small mom-and-pop operations just can’t compete with the low bids, and offers of illegal cash profits promised by these scam companies. It’s the honest workers that are victims, but it’s also anyone who is living in a home built by the unskilled, substandard, illegally paid workers that are hired by these scam artists.”
Following a series of raids, and undercover operations, the following individuals have been arrested as part of Operation Money Trail:
Francisco Nunes. Charged with one count of racketeering, and one count of conspiracy to commit racketeering. Arrested Thursday morning after a raid on his home at 9851 Orange Park Trail, Boca Raton. Nunes, say investigators, is believed to be the main player involved in the creation of the bogus shell companies. Among the items seized at his home included stamps, checkbooks, and signature authorization forms linked to the shell company.
Marco Delgado. Charged with one count of racketeering, and one count of conspiracy to commit racketeering. Arrested Thursday morning at 1145 West Camino Real, Boca Raton. Investigators say Delgado was brought into the conspiracy by Nunes, and was a courier involved in obtaining insurance certificates for the shell companies.
Edigar Neves. Charged with one count of racketeering, and one count of conspiracy to commit racketeering. Arrested on the 1200 block of 33rd street in Pompano Beach. Investigators say Neves was a involved in the signing and cashing of the checks made out to the bogus companies.
Following an undercover operation during which a detective was able to cash a check made out to one of the shell companies at a check cashing store, the following arrest was made:
Amjad Shafiq Abuzahra. Charged with one count of racketeering, and one count of conspiracy to commit racketeering. Arrested at Atlantic Check Cashing located at 2751 West Atlantic Boulevard.