Consumer eViews
FLORIDA CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER ALEX SINK'S WEEKLY NEWSLETTER

Volume 4, Number 11, March 16, 2007

Dear Floridian:

The legislative session is now fully underway and this week I had an opportunity to share my priorities as they relate to our legislative agenda.

I was interviewed on The Florida Channel's "Florida Face-to-Face" and that interview will be shown on stations throughout Florida.

Please see the schedule below and take a moment to tune in.


--
Alex Sink


CFO SINK AND GENERAL MILLIGAN ON INSURANCE CONSUMER ADVOCATE LEGISLATION
 
Led by State Senator Bill Posey (R- Rockledge), the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee unanimously approved Senate Bill 1884, which expands the Office of the Insurance Consumer Advocate.

In response, Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink issued the following statement:

“This bill puts consumers on more equal footing with insurance companies and gives them a louder voice. I applaud Senator Posey and the other senators for taking this step to expand the Office of Insurance Consumer Advocate.”

General Bob Milligan, Insurance Consumer Advocate, also issued the following statement:

“As the Insurance Consumer Advocate, it’s my goal to help educate and help defend the rights of Floridians when it comes to insurance. Today, consumers took a big step toward being invited to the table when insurance decisions are made.”

SB 1884 will now proceed to the Senate General Government Appropriations and Rules Committees, before being heard on the Senate Floor. Floridians can go online at www.MyFloridaCFO.com/ica/ to learn more about the Insurance Consumer Advocate’s office.

This bill builds on CFO Sink’s and General Milligan’s vision to expand the Office of the Insurance Consumer Advocate to include the ability to intervene as a party in legal and administrative proceedings, have access to the public model for hurricane loss projections, investigate insurance schemes or practices that adversely affect Floridians, appeal any action taken by the Office of Insurance Regulation, and hire additional staff in the areas of health and life insurance.

As a statewide elected officer of the Florida Cabinet, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink oversees the Department of Financial Services, a multi-division state agency responsible for management of state funds and unclaimed property, assisting consumers who request information and help related to financial services, and investigating financial fraud. CFO Sink also serves as the State Fire Marshal.

General Milligan, Florida’s Insurance Consumer Advocate, was elected Florida's Comptroller from 1994 until 2002. General Milligan served in the U.S. Marine Corps for 35 years, rising to the rank of lieutenant general (3 stars). While a member of the Florida Cabinet, General Milligan helped create the current position of Chief Financial Officer. Throughout his service, he was known for doing what was right and putting people ahead of politics.


FLDFS DETECTIVE WINS DISTINGUISHED LAW OFFICER AWARD

Florida Department of Financial Services Detective Geoffrey R. Branch of the Division of Insurance Fraud was one of three recipients named 2006 Distinguished Law Officers of the Year in Palm Beach County by The Palm Beach Post. All winners received $1,000 each and a trophy.

Branch, the lead detective in the division of insurance fraud's West Palm Beach field office, won the Star 30 award for agencies or units with 30 or less sworn officers.

He uncovered one of the largest known workers' compensation fraud schemes last year, leading the investigation into shell construction companies that led to six arrests and the seizure of over $2 million. "This award is more about an identity for our agency than it is an award for me," Branch said.

Branch detected shell construction companies whose only existence was on paper. He learned their sole purpose was to acquire small workers compensation policies and "rent" the companies' certificates of insurance to hundreds of contractors using thousands of illegal workers.

The scheme was designed to evade the payment of millions of dollars in workers compensation premiums.

Branch, a detective with the division of insurance fraud for about eight years, has a master's degree in criminal justice administration from Lynn University. He is an adjunct criminal justice instructor at Kaplan University.


“FLORIDA FACE-TO-FACE" WITH CFO ALEX SINK

The Florida Channel is airing an interview with Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink on “Florida Face-to-Face” in 12 cities across the state.  During the interview, CFO Sink lays out her 2007 Legislative priorities, touching on her vision for the My Safe Florida Home program and KidCare, as well as her work on addressing the potential economic impacts of climate change and issues relating to Citizens Property Insurance Corporation.

 The statewide television schedule for the CFO’s “Florida Face-to-Face” interview is below.  As of Monday, March 19, 2007, you may also view the interview online at http://www.wfsu.org/tfc/index.html. 

“Florida Face-to-Face” with CFO Alex Sink will air as follows: 
  
City                   Station                         Date                     Time

Cocoa

WBCC-Channel 68

Thur., March15

Sun., March 18

  7:30 p.m.

  5:00 p.m.

Daytona Beach

WCEU-Channel 15

Sun., March 18

10:30 a.m.

Ft. Myers

WGCU-Channel 30

Sun., March 18

10:30 a.m.

Gainesville

WUFT-Channel 5

Wed., March 21

  1:30 p.m.

Jacksonville

WJCT-Channel 7

Tues., March 20

  2:00 p.m.

Miami

WLRN-Channel 17

Sun., March 18

Mon., March 19 

12:00 p.m.

  1:00 a.m.

Orlando

WMFE-Channel 24

Sat., March 17

12:30 a.m.

Panama City

WFSG-Channel 56

Thur., March 15

Sun., March 18

6:30 p.m.

10:30 a.m.

Pensacola

WSRE-Channel 23

Sun., March 18

12:00 p.m.

Tallahassee

WFSU-Channel 11

Thur., March 15

Sun., March 18

  7:30 p.m.

11:30 a.m.

Tallahassee

FSU's Cable 4

Mon. - Friday

Sat., March 17

Sun., March 18

Wed., March 21

  6:30 a.m.

  9:00 p.m.

  6:30 p.m.

  6:00 p.m.

Tampa

WEDU-Channel 3

Sun., March 18

11:30 a.m.

Tampa

WUSF-Channel 16

Sun., March 18

  7:30 a.m.

West Palm

WXEL-Channel 42

Sat., March 17

  7:30 a.m.


SOUTH CENTRAL BFAI DETECTIVES RECOGNIZED FOR INVESTIGATION

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd formally recognized members of the Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations (BFAI) South Central Region investigative team for their investigative work on a recent homicide that led to the arrests of three suspects. 

 “Our arson detectives are recognized among the best in the nation and I thank them for their commitment and dedication to protecting the citizens of Florida,” said Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, who also serves as State Fire Marshal.   

BFAI’s case agent was Detective Mike Douglas.  Other members of the team were Captain Mark Sauls, Lieutenant Brandon Ball and Detective Eric Saccasyn and canine Xena.  Sheriff Judd formally recognized the members of the investigative team and awarded each a Sheriff's Commendation for their efforts in the case. 

In early January,  Polk County sheriff’s deputies requested the BFAI’s assistance at a motor vehicle fire in Babson Park in rural Polk County where the remains of a 17-year-old female were discovered in the trunk. The BFAI’s regional accelerant detection canine team determined the fire had been set.

The following day, team members further examined the vehicle and the remains at the medical examiners office, and the medical examiner concluded the manner of death to be homicide. The vehicle was extensively examined, sifted and preserved for future use if necessary.  

A few days later, BFAI’s South Central detectives were asked to assist with the interviews of three suspects. Confessions were obtained from two of the three suspects and the three suspects were arrested for a variety of charges including first-degree murder, robbery, and arson. The three suspects were later indicted by a grand jury on the same charges.


WASHINGTON COUNTY WOMAN ARRESTED ON CHARGES OF WORKERS’ COMPENSATION FRAUD, PERJURY

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink announced the arrest of a Washington County woman on charges of workers’ compensation fraud and perjury in an official proceeding. Laura Harrell Coleman, 57, allegedly created and submitted false time sheets to the Florida Municipal Insurance Trust (FMIT) to receive nearly $340,000 in workers’ compensation reimbursement.

Coleman was arrested Thursday in Washington County. The charges stem from an investigation by the Department of Financial Services’ Division of Insurance Fraud (DIF) and are being prosecuted in Washington County by the State Attorney’s Office. DIF’s case agent was Detective Selaina Porter. If convicted on the charges, Coleman faces up to 30 years in prison, in addition to fines and restitution.

“This woman was knowingly and systematically exploiting a system set up to help Floridians in need,” said CFO Sink, who oversees the Department of Financial Services. “This office is committed to protecting Floridians and their pocketbooks from these types of crimes.” 

Coleman’s husband, a sanitation worker for the City of Chipley, was injured during the course of employment. Because the City of Chipley is a member of the Florida League of Cities, Coleman’s husband was entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, including attendant care reimbursement, from FMIT. Evidence showed that between October 3, 1999, and April 16, 2006, Coleman created and printed attendant care time sheets that contained false time documentations regarding hours worked by her husband’s attendant care provider. She allegedly signed the attendant care provider’s name on the time sheets without the provider’s knowledge and then submitted those false time sheets to FMIT for reimbursement. Coleman’s actions caused FMIT to pay approximately $339,248 in attendant care benefits to which Coleman was not entitled.

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 any other suspected fraud case is asked to 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 an arrest and conviction.


CFO SINK ANNOUNCES STATE-OF-THE-ART INTERVIEW RECORDING SYSTEM, TO INCREASE FRAUD CONVICTION RATES

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink announced that a new state-of-the-art interview recording system is now being used in the Miami regional office of the Department of Financial Services’ Division of Insurance Fraud. The new recording system is expected to increase conviction rates by providing law enforcement officers and the courts with more accurate and complete evidence of statements made to investigators by witnesses and offenders.

The CaseCracker Interview Management System may be used to digitally record audio and video of law enforcement interviews in their entirety. The system will also make it easier to share and transfer recorded interviews with other law enforcement entities in joint investigations. In addition, the new recording system is expected to save time in case preparation and interview reviewing.

“The implementation of a high-tech recording system is another innovative way my office is working to protect Floridians by holding people who commit fraud accountable,” said CFO Sink who oversees the Department of Financial Services. “Prosecuting fraud more efficiently will help increase conviction rates and protect Floridians from financial crimes.”

The Miami office is home to the division’s largest fraud prosecution unit. Last year alone, the Miami fraud office was responsible for 300 of the state’s nearly 800 fraud arrests.

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 suspected insurance fraud is asked to 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 an arrest and conviction.


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