Volume 3 Number 23
June 5, 2006

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NEW YORK MAN SENT TO PRISON FOR STEALING FROM FLORIDA’S UNCLAIMED PROPERTY PROGRAM

Tom Gallagher, Florida’s chief financial officer, announced that a New York man has been sentenced to 18 months in federal prison and ordered to pay more than $630,000 in restitution after he pleaded guilty to an elaborate scheme to steal money from Florida’s Bureau of Unclaimed Property. More than $500,000 of the stolen money was tracked to a bank in Ramallah, Palestine.

Michael Bronstein, 37, pleaded guilty to mail fraud and was sentenced Thursday by North Florida Federal District Court Judge Robert L. Hinkle. The charges were the result of a joint investigation by the Florida Department of Financial Services, Office of Fiscal Integrity, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The North Florida U.S. Attorney’s Office prosecuted the charges.

“I commend the investigators for unraveling this complex scheme and bringing this individual to justice,” said Gallagher, who oversees the department. He noted that during the three-year investigation, the Office of Fiscal Integrity issued 30 subpoenas and tracked more than 600,000 telephone calls.

Bronstein participated in an elaborate scheme to file fraudulent claims for unclaimed property through the Florida Bureau of Unclaimed Property, which currently holds accounts valued at more than $1 billion in unclaimed cash and property.

The scheme began to unravel in 2002 when a legitimate owner filed a claim on property that Bronstein had collected on. The Department’s Office of Fiscal Integrity launched an investigation and determined that Bronstein’s organization had made six other fraudulent claims in Florida as well as attempting fraudulent claims in nine other states. The FBI’s Tallahassee office joined the case, and the investigation expanded into New York where investigators learned Bronstein had rented office space and equipped it by using fraudulent credit cards and bank accounts. All told, Bronstein’s illegal operation took in more than $895,000 in unclaimed property, and $60,000 from fraudulent credit card transactions.

Since 2003, Gallagher has returned nearly $300 million in cash and property to current or former Floridians -- about one-third of all of the cash and property returned since the program’s inception in 1961. Most of the unclaimed property is turned over from dormant bank accounts, utility deposits, insurance premium refunds, un-cashed payroll checks and trust holdings, as well as valuables from abandoned safe deposit boxes. Owners or heirs can claim their property for free by logging on to www.fltreasurehunt.org or by calling 1-88-VALUABLE (1-888-258-2253.)