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FLORIDA CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER TOM GALLAGHER'S WEEKLY NEWSLETTER

Volume 3, Number 47, November 20, 2006

As we gather this week with friends and family to give thanks, we should reflect on all of the joy we have in our life of freedom. It is a blessing to live in the most beautiful state of a free and plentiful nation.

With our sandy beaches and stunning waterways, our lush green spaces and majestic cities, we have every reason to be truly thankful to live in Florida.

As we safely travel this holiday weekend to our destinations, we should be thankful for those men and women in uniform who are making the sacrifice of being away from their families so that they can protect our rights and freedom.

I wish you and your loved ones a safe and happy Thanksgiving. Enjoy this wonderful holiday and all of the meaning it brings.

 -- Tom Gallagher


BUREAU OF UNCLAIMED PROPERTY, WESH-TV RETURN MORE THAN $2 MILLION TO FLORIDA RESIDENTS

Tom Gallagher, Florida’s chief financial officer, announced that the Department of Financial Services’ Bureau of Unclaimed Property, in conjunction with Orlando’s WESH-TV, generated claims for more than $2 million in cash and property for more than 8,700 Central Florida residents during a week of coverage that included an early-morning “live” phone bank.

“It is our mission to find the owners or heirs and return this property to them,” Gallagher said. “In many cases, we are returning money or property to people who really need it. It comes at a time that makes a real financial difference for them.”

The bureau’s hotline, 1-88-VALUABLE, was open four hours earlier than usual Wednesday and Thursday, and the station had a correspondent reporting live from Tallahassee, encouraging viewers to call as part of a week of daily television reports on the program. The bureau is currently holding unclaimed property accounts valued at more than $1.3 billion, including $50 million worth of cash and property for 400,000 account holders in Central Florida. Since 2003, Gallagher, who oversees the department, has returned more than $423 million in cash and property to current or former Floridians – half of all of the cash and property returned since the program’s inception in 1961.

This is the second time this year the bureau has operated a live phone bank in conjunction with WESH-TV. It has also conducted similar phone banks this year with stations in Jacksonville, Miami and Tampa. Floridians or former Floridians can also check for unclaimed property by logging on to www.fltreasurehunt.org.

The extra telephone hours this week resulted in more than six times the normal daily average call volume.

Most unclaimed property comes from dormant accounts in financial institutions, deposits paid to utility companies, insurance benefits and premium refunds, un-cashed payroll checks and trust holdings. The state’s holdings also include property such as watches, jewelry, coins, stamps and historical items from abandoned safe deposit boxes.

Unclaimed property can be claimed for free at any time by the rightful owners or heirs.

Until claimed, however, the unclaimed funds are transferred to the state’s School Trust Fund to benefit public schools. Since the program’s inception, more than $1.5 billion has been transferred to the fund.

Gallagher urges Floridians to regularly visit www.fltreasurehunt.org to check for unclaimed property the state may be holding for them. He also offers these suggestions for avoiding losing track of property in the first place:

If you move often or expect to move again, keep a record of utility or rent deposits.
Follow up if you are due a last paycheck.
Keep up with safe deposit boxes and bank accounts. Don’t assume that if you move the bank will hold on to it for you indefinitely – they won’t, especially if you fail to pay required fees.
Make sure your bank has your current address.
Closely read bank statements and correspondence. Banks can merge or be sold and your cash and property could get lost in the shuffle.
Make sure you have a will so someone will know what to do with your accounts or the contents of your safe deposit box.

For more information about the Bureau of Unclaimed Property, log on to www.fltreasurehunt.org and click on Frequently Asked Questions.


GOVERNOR, CABINET APPROVE PURCHASE TO PROTECT SILVER SPRINGS

Acquisition of almost 4,500 acres will help preserve springs and wildlife
 
Governor Jeb Bush and the Florida Cabinet today approved the purchase of 4,471 acres near Silver Springs as part of the Florida First Magnitude Springs Florida Forever project.  A partnership with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and Marion County, the purchase from Avatar Properties, Inc. will place the land in conservation and protect the water quality of Silver Springs.

“Through this public-private partnership, the State is acquiring a critical piece of property near Silver Springs, protecting water quality in one of the largest artesian springs in the world,” said Governor Bush. “Silver Springs is a part of Florida’s natural and cultural heritage and this purchase protects a part of Florida’s history in perpetuity.”

TNC will purchase the property from Avatar Properties, Inc., and the State will then acquire the property from TNC in two phases. The first phase will be purchased by the end of this year, approximately 2,677 acres, and the remaining 1,793 acres will be purchased next fiscal year. To aid the purchase, Marion County is contributing $2.5 million.

“Silver Springs is a popular destination for tourists and residents alike and is a unique part of Florida’s cultural history,” said Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Colleen M. Castille. “Today’s vote will protect almost 4,500 acres near the springs from development, preserving habitat and water quality for future generations to enjoy.”

This acquisition preserves habitat for rare and endangered species, including the bald eagle, Florida black bear and gopher tortoise. With 13 known sinkholes, the area acts as a pristine recharge area for one of the largest first magnitude springs in the nation. In addition, Silver Springs has served as the setting for the “Sea Hunt” television series starring Lloyd Bridges and many feature films, including “Creature from the Black Lagoon.”

“We are proud to be of assistance to the state in acquiring this important geologic and historic portion of Silver Springs,” said State Director of The Nature Conservancy, Victoria Tschinkel.

The Florida First Magnitude Springs Florida Forever project focuses on land near Florida’s first magnitude springs that discharge more than 100 cubic feet of water per second. Florida’s springs, scattered through northern and central Florida, draw from the Floridan Aquifer which is the primary source of drinking water. The springs, with clear, continuously flowing waters, are among Florida’s most important natural resources and are famous tourist attractions.

“This historic purchase is a crucial step toward protecting the magnificent springs that are such an important part of our history and so vital to our water supply,” said Marion County Commission Chairman Jim Payton. “Marion County is delighted to be part of the partnership that made this happen.”

The Florida Springs Initiative, established by Governor Jeb Bush in 2001, is the first comprehensive, coordinated plan to restore and protect Florida’s more than 700 freshwater springs. Last year the Florida Springs Initiative set aside more than $300,000 to protect spring ecosystems, water quality and flow within Florida’s award-winning state park system.

The 10-year, $3 billion Florida Forever program established by Governor Jeb Bush and the Florida Legislature conserves environmentally sensitive land, restores waterways and preserves important cultural and historical resources. For more information, visit www.FloridaForever.org


WOMAN ARRESTED FOR INSURANCE FRAUD, ALTERING DEATH CERTIFICATE


A 40-year-old Tampa woman was arrested Friday for the second time since 2003 for allegedly filing a fraudulent insurance claim and altering a death certificate, this time to collect on a $20,000 life insurance policy she took out on herself.

Jean Rodriguez Fontalvo faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted on the charges stemming from an investigation by the Department of Financial Services, Division of Insurance Fraud.

“I commend the investigators in this case for preventing this woman from carrying out her scheme a second time,” said Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher, who oversees the department. “We are sending a clear message that we will not tolerate abuse of our citizens, and fraud steals from our citizens.”

Investigators said the woman took out the life insurance policy in 2005 under the name Jean Rodriguez, then early this year, claiming to be her sister Jean Fontalvo, tried to collect on the policy by altering a death certificate with the name Jean Rodriquez. 
Investigators say that Fontalvo has no sister by the name of Jean Fontalvo.

The same fraud detective who made Friday’s arrest conducted the investigation that led to Fontalvo’s arrest and conviction in 2003 for the same thing – only the first time Fontalvo received $15,000 from a life insurance policy after claiming her still-living husband had died. She served two years in prison and had been out of jail for about four months when she allegedly tried to repeat the scheme.

Fontalvo was released from the Orient Road Jail on Friday after posting bond. Bail was set at $11,500.

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


STATE SPENDING WITH MINORITY BUSINESSES HITS RECORD LEVEL

Governor Bush announced the State of Florida has spent a record breaking $761.2 million with certified minority and women-owned businesses in Florida during the past year. Minority spending throughout state government has increased $497 million or 189% since the 1998-99 fiscal year.

This year's spending is the highest since the "Equity in Contracting" component of the One Florida Initiative began. In 1999, when the initiative was introduced, total certified minority spending in state government was approximately $263 million. Under the One Florida Initiative, Gov. Bush challenged Florida's state agencies to increase minority business spending and expand outreach and services to minority businesses statewide. For more information on minority contracting, please visit www.oneflorida.org.


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