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

Volume 4, Number 13, March 30, 2007

Dear Floridian:

Everyday, I work to ensure you and your families have a bright future, by safeguarding our state’s finances and monitoring issues that affect Florida’s economy.  I am eager to spread awareness to Floridians about the safety and financial incentives of hardening their homes against natural disasters.

This week I announced that the My Safe Florida Home program began mailing grant money to Florida homeowners who have hardened their homes against hurricanes through the program.  The homeowners, who received free wind inspections during the pilot phase of the program, are being reimbursed for half the cost of a variety of home improvements, including hurricane shutters, reinforced garage doors and roof enhancements. 

I encourage you to visit the My Safe Florida Home website at http://www.mysafefloridahome.com/ to find out more information about our program, and how you can make your home a stronger, safer place to live.

Sincerely,

--Alex Sink


CFO SINK ANNOUNCES FIRST MITIGATION GRANTS BEING MAILED TO FLORIDA HOMEOWNERS
More than 4,000 Floridians hardening their homes through the My Safe Florida Home Program

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink announced that ten mitigation grants totaling almost $30,000 have been mailed to Florida homeowners from five counties who hardened their homes against hurricanes through the My Safe Florida Home (MSFH) program. The homeowners, who received free wind inspections during the pilot phase of the program, are being reimbursed for half the cost of a variety of home improvements, including hurricane shutters, reinforced garage doors and roof enhancements.

More than 4,000 homeowners who participated in the pilot phase of the program have applied for matching grants from the MSFH program. These homeowners are currently working with licensed contractors approved by the MSFH program and making recommended improvements to their homes. Once the work has been completed, the state will reimburse the homeowners for 50 percent of the actual cost of the improvements, up to $5,000.

“I am excited that Floridians are hardening their homes before the next hurricane season starts with the help of the My Safe Florida Home program,” said CFO Sink, who oversees the Department of Financial Services. “It is my goal to increase awareness about the financial and safety incentives available to homeowners that choose to mitigate their homes and better protect their families.”

The MSFH program helps Floridians identify how they can strengthen their homes and reduces the overall potential for hurricane damage in our state. To achieve this goal, the program offers eligible homeowners a free home inspection by trained and qualified hurricane mitigation inspectors. Homeowners who have received these inspections also have the opportunity to apply for a matching grant of up to $5,000 to make recommended improvements.

During the MSFH program’s 2006 pilot phase, more than 14,000 free wind inspections were conducted in 17 counties. Along with an inspection report, these 14,000 homeowners received a grant application to apply for matching funds, and the department has received applications from more than 4,000 homeowners to date.


CONVERSATIONS ON CLIMATE CHANGE

Tuesday, April 3, 2007, at 11:00 a.m. after the Florida Cabinet Meeting, Commissioner of Agriculture Charles Bronson and Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink will host a workshop titled “Conversations on Climate Change.”  The workshop will be the first in a series of discussion on the impact of climate change on our state.

Tuesday’s workshop will feature national experts in areas such as the science of rising sea levels, renewable energy sources, the impact of climate change on the insurance and financial industries, and more.  The sessions will also give elected officials, business leaders and Floridians the opportunity to understand how these challenges and potential solutions present opportunities for the growth of new industries in our state.

Floridians can also find out more about climate change by visiting CFO Sink and Commissioner Bronson’s website at http://www.floridaclimatechange.com.  The website will be available on Monday in conjunction with the first workshop.

The agenda for the April 3, 2007, "Climate Change - An Overview" will be as follows:

11:00-11:03 AM     Charlie Crist – Welcome back after break
11:03 -11:09 AM    Alex Sink - Opening Remarks
11:09 -11:15 AM    Charles Bronson – Opening Remarks
11:15 -11:35 AM    Dr. Meg Lowman - From the Tree Tops of India
11:35 -11:55 AM    Dr. Stephen Mulkey - Climate Change  
11:55 -12:15 PM    Dr. Stephen Leatherman - Sea Level Rise
12:45 -1:05 PM      Tim Wagner - Insurance 
1:05 - 1:25 PM       Ken Locklin - Investments  
1:25 - 1:45 PM       Keith Allan - International Impacts 
1:45 - 2:05 PM       Mike Bowman - Farm to Fuel
2:05 - 2:25 PM       Question and Answer Session  
2:25 - 2:30 PM       Alex Sink & Charles Bronson - Closing Remarks                    

We hope you can join us, as we begin this important dialogue to make more informed decisions about Florida’s future. 


CFO SINK NAMES JACKSONVILLE CLAIMS EXPERT TO CITIZENS CLAIMS HANDLING TASK FORCE

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink announced the appointment of Mike Lancashire to the Task Force on Citizens Property Insurance Claims Handling and Resolution. Lancashire is the Vice President of Claims for The Main Street America Group, a Jacksonville-based super regional property-casualty carrier, and has more than 20 years of experience with both the commercial and residential property insurance markets.

The Task Force on Citizens Property Insurance Claims Handling and Resolution was created by House Bill 1A during the 2007 Special Session of the Florida Legislature. The task force is composed of four full members with one member appointed by each the Governor, Chief Financial Officer, President of the Senate and Speaker of the House; and three ex officio voting members, including the Commissioner of Insurance Regulation, Insurance Consumer Advocate and Executive Director of Citizens Property Insurance Corporations or their designees.

Specifically, the committee is directed to develop recommendations for Citizens to complete remaining claims from the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons. A final committee report is due to the Governor, Chief Financial Officer, President of the Senate and Speaker of the House by July 1, 2007. The task force is additionally charged with evaluating Citizens’ procedures on claims handling, claims resolution and customer service, with a final report including those recommendations due July 1, 2008.

“I am pleased to appoint an expert such as Mike to serve as a member of the task force reviewing Citizens’ claims handling procedures,” said CFO Sink. “He will bring extensive insurance claims and management experience to the task force, and I know he will serve with the best interests of Floridians in mind.”


JUDGE APPROVES NEW POLICY OPTIONS FOR VANGUARD POLICYHOLDERS 

Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry P. Lewis approved an order  allowing Royal Palm Insurance Company (Royal Palm) and Security First Insurance Company (Security First) to offer new coverage to the 57,000 homeowner policyholders currently with Maitland-based Vanguard Fire & Casualty Company.   Today’s order follows one Judge Lewis signed last week naming the Department of Financial Services the receiver for Vanguard for purposes of liquidation, effective yesterday, and ordering current policies cancelled at 12:01 a.m. on April 25, 2007.   

“We want to ensure these Floridians have an offer in hand as they begin to shop for new coverage,” said Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, who as CFO oversees the department.  “Our top priority is to take care of policyholders and ensure their claims are paid.” 

Each policyholder will receive an offer of new coverage from either Royal Palm or Security First, effective April 25, 2007, or upon expiration of the policyholder’s Vanguard coverage, whichever occurs first.  Policyholders also will be free to choose other companies for coverage.  

The Department of Financial Services was named receiver in January for purposes of rehabilitation and has paid more than $6 million in claims using company assets, but determined the company’s cash and reserves are not enough to keep up with claims.   

Vanguard claimants who need to check on the status of an existing claim, or report a new claim should call the Florida Insurance Guaranty Association at 1-866-928-4310.  Questions relating to current Vanguard policy, coverage and claim issues should be directed to Vanguard Fire & Casualty Company at 1-866-830-6423.  Policyholders with questions regarding the offers of new coverage should contact their agent or call Royal Palm and Security First at 1-866-351-3060.  

For any other questions, consumers can call the Florida Department of Financial Services at 1-800-882-3054.  The liquidation order can be read at http://www.MyFloridaCFO.com/PressOffice/pdfs/LiquidationOrder32207.pdf.

The order signed today is attached and can also be read at http://www.MyFloridaCFO.com/PressOffice/pdfs/OrderAgreementSecurityRoyal.pdf.
 


CFO Sink REVOKES Orlando Agent’s license for pocketing Customer payments 

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink has revoked the license of an insurance agent who, from 2004 to 2006, diverted premium payments from his clients into a personal account and never forwarded the payments to the insurance carriers. 

Christopher Millsaps, 45, of Orlando, targeted several of his larger commercial business clients in Orange and Seminole counties, telling them they had additional insurance premiums due and instructing them to remit their payments directly to him.  

“Consumers trust insurance agents to ensure they receive adequate coverage and the services they pay for,” said CFO Sink.  “We will aggressively pursue any agent who takes advantage of a customer, especially as so many Floridians are struggling to keep up with rising premiums.”

The misappropriated funds were deposited into his personal account and were never paid to the respective insurance carriers. With the assistance of Millsaps’ agency employer, the Department of Financial Services has confirmed necessary coverage to all of his victims.  BJ Hotaling was the department’s lead investigator.

 The Florida Department of Financial Services’ Division of Agent and Agency Services, Bureau of Investigation, investigates various types of insurance violations by agents including health, life, auto, property, workers’ compensation, bail bond and title insurance.  To check on the status of an agent’s license or to file a complaint against an agent, call 1-800-342-2762 or log on to www.MyFloridaCFO.com.   


englewood businessman charged with workers’ comp fraud

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink announced that the owner of Don Estlund’s Tree Service is facing a charge of operating without workers’ compensation insurance.  Donald Robert Estlund allegedly admitted to operating for eight years without the state-mandated coverage, after an employee incurred a staggering medical debt due to an injury he received on the job. 

Estlund, 41, was arrested on the charge Thursday and was booked into the Sarasota County Jail.  If convicted on the charge filed against him, Estlund could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison in addition to restitution and fines.  Detectives with the Department of Financial Services (DFS), Division of Insurance Fraud, began investigating the company after an employee suffered a catastrophic injury on the job nearly two years ago and incurred more than $255,000 in unpaid medical bills.  Detective Steven Firestone was the division’s lead investigator and the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office assisted with the arrest. 

“Workers’ compensation insurance is required by state law to protect workers, and is especially crucial to those serving in high-risk jobs,” said CFO Sink, who oversees the DFS.  “This individual knowingly put his employees at risk, and we believe he deserves the maximum penalty under the law.”

 On July 1, 2005, Estlund’s employee, Bryan Aicher, suffered a catastrophic injury when his left arm and hand were crushed by a falling 12-foot section of tree.  Aicher incurred $255,759 in medical expenses. Detectives said because Estlund operated outside of the law, Aicher has found himself solely responsible for all injury-related bills.  However, if convicted, Estlund could be held responsible for all expenses that would have been covered by the workers’ compensation insurance, including Aicher’s medical bills, rehabilitation expenses, and loss of wages. 

The Department of Financial Services, Division of Insurance Fraud, investigates fraud in all types of insurance, including health, life, auto, property and workers’ compensation.  To report information about this case or any other possible insurance fraud case, call the department’s fraud hotline at 1-800-378-0445.  A reward of up to $25,000 may be offered for information leading to a conviction.


CFO SINK ANNOUNCES ARREST OF PANAMA CITY MAN SUSPECTED OF BEING SERIAL ARSONIST

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, who also serves as the State Fire Marshal, announced the arrest of a Panama City man who allegedly admitted to setting more than 20 fires in and around the Panama City area in less than two years.   

Jeffrey Brightbill, 40, was arrested today on a charge of first-degree arson.  Arson detectives said Brightbill admitted setting fires in the Panama City area, as well as fires in Fort Walton Beach and Destin areas and in other states. If convicted on the arson charge, he faces up to 30 years in prison, in addition to fines and possible restitution.  Other arson charges are pending.   

The arrest followed an investigation by a task force made up of the Division of State Fire Marshal, Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations (BFAI); Panama City Police Department; Bay County Sheriff's Office; Cedar Grove Police Department; State Attorney's Office in the 14th Judicial Circuit; Panama City Beach Police Department; Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Division of Forestry; Panama City Fire Department; Panama City Beach Fire Department; and Bay County Fire Department.  Today’s arrest was made by the Panama City Police Department.  Detective Tommy Barron was the lead detective for the BFAI. 

“I’m so thankful to the local Panama City investigators for getting this man off the streets before he hurt someone,” said CFO Sink.  “His actions put the lives of the people in the Panama City area at risk and our office will see to it he is held accountable.” 

The Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations is a law enforcement branch of the Division of State Fire Marshal that assists other state and local fire and law enforcement agencies in the investigation of fires of suspicious origin.  Anyone with information about this case or any incident of fire is asked to call 1-877-662-7766 (1-877-NOARSON).


CFO SINK ANNOUNCES FIRE PREVENTION TASK FORCE 

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, who also serves as State Fire Marshal, announced  that the Division of State Fire Marshal and several South Florida fire and law enforcement agencies have created a task force to promote fire safety after a fire at a mobile home park earlier this month resulted in five deaths and the hospitalization of five others. 

“We want to do everything we can to prevent such a tragedy from ever happening again,” said CFO Sink.  “I appreciate the efforts of everyone who has worked to put this task force together as well as those who will serve on the task force in an effort to make sure these residents have critical information to protect their families and homes.” 

The task force will begin Sunday by talking to parishioners at the 10 a.m. mass at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church, and then in the afternoon will be distributing fliers in the Migrant Farmers Cooperative Union area. 

By raising awareness through public education, the task force hopes to establish ongoing relationships among residents and participating agencies, help identify fire safety concerns, and provide information on public and home fire safety, including the importance for families to have working smoke detectors and a fire escape plan. To ensure effective communications with Immokalee residents, the task force will include two members fluent in Spanish and two members fluent in Creole. 

The Immokalee fire occurred the morning of March 4 at a mobile home in Cleves Trailer Park, 713 2nd Ave, Lot #18.  The State Fire Marshal’s Office, Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations (BFAI), is continuing to investigate that fire, and the Florida Advisory Committee on Arson Prevention is offering a reward of up to $2,500 for information on the fire. 

The Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations is a law enforcement branch of the Division of State Fire Marshal that assists other state and local fire and law enforcement agencies in the investigation of fires of suspicious origin.  Anyone with information about this case or any incident of fire is asked to call 1-877-662-7766 (1-877-NOARSON).


Consumer Services Helpline (800) 342-2762
Consumer eViews  www.MyFloridaCFO.com/PressOffice/Newsletter/