FLORIDA CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER
ALEX SINK'S WEEKLY NEWSLETTER

Volume 5, Number 36, September  5, 2008

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Florida’s Financial Action Team (FACT), the brainchild of Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, met this week to hear the much anticipated reports from more than a dozen housing, employment and community development representatives. FACT was created by CFO Sink as a public-private partnership to help the State identify and benefit from funding and programs available from the federal Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008.

Know as HERA, the federal program provides funding and programs that can help states, like Florida, whose families and communities are reeling from the foreclosure crisis. RealtyTrac's July 2008 U.S. Foreclosure Market Report stated that Florida had the second highest number of foreclosures in the nation, posting 45,884 foreclosures in July 2008—a 14 percent increase from the previous month. Florida's foreclosure rate was the third-highest in the country, with one foreclosure for every 186 households.

“We had a very productive first working meeting and I am extremely encouraged by the work of the members of Florida’s Financial Action Team,” said CFO Sink. “Florida’s FACT is an example of public – private partnerships at their best. It is already clear from the work of our FACT stakeholders that by working together, we can help Florida families and communities suffering from the foreclosure crisis.”

CFO SINK’S “FINANCIAL ACTION TEAM”

Sink called upon the broad coalition last month to review federal foreclosure assistance legislation

Chief Financial Officer Sink chaired the first workshop of her Financial Action Team on Thursday, September 4 and took reports from more than a dozen participants on the recently passed federal Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008. During the half day workshop, representatives of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, the banking and credit union industry, mortgage brokers and lenders, realtors, financial planners, cities and counties, affordable housing groups and legal services organizations discussed the key provisions of the new law that will provide housing relief to Floridians.

The FACT Team discussed ways for Florida to take advantage of the billions of dollars in federal aid to persons with distressed mortgages, veterans, local governments and non-profit affordable housing groups. Some of the provisions, such as a tax credit for new homebuyers, are in effect now, and other provisions will go into effect later this year and in 2009.
The new law provides relief to veterans who are facing foreclosure by extending the foreclosure process, freezing mortgage rates, and providing assistance to veterans who are displaced from a rental property because of a foreclosure. The law also provides assistance to disabled veterans who need to modify their homes in order to remain in them.

The law sets aside nearly $4 billion for local governments to use to renovate and maintain foreclosed-upon properties so that they can be made ready for new residents, and creates a $7,500 credit on federal income tax for persons who are recent homebuyers. It also provides for a guarantee of up to $300 billion in refinanced loans for homeowners who are having difficulty making their mortgage payments.

CFO Sink plans for the FACT Team to meet again this month to prepare a comprehensive outreach and education program to get the word out to all Floridians who might benefit from the new law, and is looking forward to working with Admiral LeRoy Collins of the Department of Veterans Affairs to ensure that veterans are provided with the relief and benefits that they have earned. CFO Sink's goal is to help Florida’s housing economy - the key driver of our state’s economic condition – move in the right direction to protect the American Dream for all Floridians.


SAVING ENERGY, SAVING MONEY

Energy tips  for Florida families - these actions represent ways to behave kindly toward Mother Earth, AND save money as well as energy.

Presented by CFO Alex Sink's science advisor Meg Lowman, Ph.D., on the faculty at New College of Florida. Dr. Lowman has written numerous award-winning books and is an expert on the rain forests of the world.

Install a TED (The Energy Detective) or similar gadget in your home to monitor your real-time energy use. It is surprising how much energy a clothes dryer requires, and how your energy bills will be greatly reduced when you start to observe the specific kilowatts of energy that different appliances require.

The device is a simple, yet extremely accurate, home energy monitor that allows you to see electricity usage in real-time. You can purchase a monitor for as little as $140 and with the federal 2004  Energy Bill, you may be eligible to receive a  tax credit for the purchase, which makes the monitor cost effective.

TED will accurately tell you what your bill is going to be long before the electric bill arrives. Meanwhile, you will learn more about conserving energy, saving money, and helping save the environment. Once installed you can turn individual appliances on and off to determine exactly how much energy each appliance uses and reduce use accordingly. 

Studies show that savings can range from 10-20%.  Imagine knowing how much it costs the moment you turn on a light bulb. Conscientious consumers can reap real savings by installing an energy monitor.


DFS’ ENFORCEMENT ACADEMY GRADUATES 12 IN INAUGURAL CLASS

Twelve law enforcement officers graduated today from the inaugural class of the Department of Financial Services’ Joint Enforcement Academy.

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink called for the creation of the academy as a way to harness the skills and experience that new enforcement officers brought from the variety of agencies where they previously worked. The inaugural class included former homicide detectives, arson detectives, financial fraud investigators, patrol officers, sheriff’s deputies, troopers and D.O.T. officers. These officers are now employed in one of the department’s two sworn law enforcement agencies – the Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations (BFAI) and the Division of Insurance Fraud (DIF). Future classes will include enforcement officers from other divisions and bureaus.

The graduates completed eight weeks of training in a variety of issues ranging from mortgage fraud to crime intelligence analysis. Deputy Chief Financial Officer Brian London, who handed out the diplomas to the graduating class, said, “The talent of the men and women serving in our enforcement agencies is too great not to use to our full capacity.”


CFO SINK UNCOVERS FRAUDULENT CHECK-CASHING SCHEME; DELIVERS $325,000 IN RESTITUTION

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink announced that an investigation by the Department of Financial Services’ (DFS) Division of Insurance Fraud, has led to more than 110 criminal charges against Christiano Leonardo Gloria, the operator of one of the largest check-cashing operations in Broward County, for allegedly conspiring in a major money-laundering and workers’ compensation fraud scheme. Attorney General Bill McCollum’s Office of Statewide Prosecution will be prosecuting the case.

DFS investigators arrested Gloria on Friday on racketeering charges stemming from his alleged support of a workers’ compensation premium fraud in the construction industry through Vionaldo Express, Inc., a money transmitter business that he operated. So far, the investigation has led to $325,000 in restitution.

“Unfortunately, there are check cashing operations that are helping companies avoid providing workers’ compensation coverage for their employees,” said CFO Sink, who oversees DFS and the state’s Division of Workers’ Compensation. “Our top priority is protecting Florida’s citizens, and we will hold employers and those who help them accountable if they violate the laws that protect injured workers.”

Gloria is being held in the Broward County Jail without bond. The charges will be prosecuted by the Office of Statewide Prosecution.

DFS Lead Investigator Detective Geoffrey Branch found that individuals set up shell construction companies and lied on insurance applications, primarily to Florida Citrus Business and Industries Fund (FCBI), to obtain workers’ compensation certificates of insurance. One of those shell companies, WM South Florida Construction, defrauded the FCBI in excess of $500,000 in premiums over a four-year period, and failed to remit taxes on a payroll of approximately $27 million. The payroll money was laundered through money transmitters in South Florida, including Vionaldo Express, from September 2002 through March 2007.

Gloria allegedly completed fraudulent currency transaction reports at Vionaldo Express, and submitted them to the IRS, stating that the person receiving cash from the shell companies’ checks was Dero William Viera in Brazil. Gloria held aside a percentage for cashing the checks, and also set aside a percentage of seven to 10 percent of each check as ‘rent’ to be distributed to Viera and other co-defendants.

The scheme allegedly provided contractors with certificates of insurance reflecting that dozens of subcontractors and hundreds of employees, oftentimes undocumented workers, were covered by workers’ compensation insurance when in reality none of these subcontractors or employees were affiliated with the shell companies. Investigators determined they were simply utilizing the shell company’s paperwork for a fee.

The following co-defendants have been convicted:

- Marcelo F. Delima (Pompano Beach) WM South Florida Construction, Inc. – Ordered to pay $189,972.88 and has paid $25,000 to date.
- Geovani M. Oliveira (Coconut Creek) WM South Florida Construction, Inc. – Expected to be ordered to pay $166,272.63 upon sentencing.
- Marcio E. Silva (Boca Raton) WM South Florida Construction, Inc., ALD Construction, CRF Construction – Ordered to pay $107,607.37 and has paid $25,000 to date.
- Sergio Dondisch (Surfside) Hialeah First, LLC DBA Liquid Cash – Ordered to pay $275,000 and has paid in full.

Delima, Oliveira and Silva were convicted of Racketeering, Conspiracy to Commit Racketeering, Worker’s Compensation Fraud, Grand Theft, and Money Laundering. Gloria, who has not been convicted, is facing those same charges as well as Filing False Currency Transaction Reports. Dondisch was convicted of Filing False Currency Transaction Reports.

Dero William Viera remains a fugitive and is criminally liable for workers’ compensations premiums owed to FCBI, as well as thousands of dollars in fraudulent claims paid by FCBI. Additionally, the state will seek to have the fugitive forfeit in excess of $500,000, which is the minimal profit obtained from the criminal enterprise.

DFS was assisted during the course of the investigation in execution of search and arrest warrants by Broward and Palm Beach Counties’ Sheriffs Office’s, Miami-Dade Police Department, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

DFS investigates various forms of fraud in insurance, including health, life, auto, property and workers' compensation insurance. Depending on the estimated loss amount, the department will pay up to $25,000 for information directly leading to an arrest and conviction.

Anyone with information about this or any other suspected insurance fraud is asked to call the department’s Fraud Fighters Hotline at 1-800-378-0445 or log on to www.MyFloridaCFO.com/fraud.


My Family CFO
Are you the chief financial officer of your family? Are you always looking out for the best deals, wise investments and smart moves for your family's financial security?

As your family's fiscal watch dog, keep an eye on this column for money-smart ideas from the Chief Financial Officer of Florida, Alex Sink.

IDEA: YOU MAY HAVE EXTRA MONEY SITTING AROUND THE HOUSE

As the summer days come to an end, consider getting rid of your old stuff -- those items that you seldom use but are unwilling to throw away. Here are several creative ways to make some cash by selling or donating your old clothes, electronics, furniture, collectibles and any other items of interest.

  • Why not have a yard sale? Drag those unwanted treasures to the front yard so someone else can cherish them. As an added bonus, you can make a few bucks! Share the fun by teaming up with neighbors and friends to have a joint sale.
  • Create an account with an online auction site to sell your unwanted items. Set a minimum price and take the chance that you might get more at auction. You do the work to photograph, describe, list online and follow up on each auction item. Packing and shipping, paid by the purchaser, are worth the effort for a good sale price. In some communities, local entrepreneurs will sell your items online for you for a fee. All you need do is drop the items off, the seller will do the rest.
  • Consider consignment. Local shops take lightly used items for resale, with a percentage of the sale price going to each party. Some shops will eventually donate your goods if they don't sell.
  • Another option is donation to a good cause. Non-profit organizations recycle goods and provide an itemized receipt for possible tax deductions.

PREPARE FOR THAT STORM IN THE FORECAST

With the 2008 storm season far from being over, CFO Sink is especially interested in making sure that you, your family, home, and business are all prepared for the remainder of the season. The next storm may be more serious. Record rainfall and resulting flooding from Fay has served as a lesson to many Floridians without flood insurance. Remember, homeowners insurance does not cover flood damage – contact the National Flood Insurance Program for more information on how to obtain flood insurance coverage. Visit http://www.floodsmart.gov/.

As the storm season progresses, State Fire Marshal Sink would also like to warn residents of the dangers of using a generator indoors or in any enclosed area such as a garage, carport or sunroom. Thousands of residents have lost power due to Tropical Storm Fay, and fire safety is a potential issue as residents use candles and lanterns in their homes.

For more information on preparedness tips, emergency contact information, or for guidance in filing insurance claims, the department’s useful Homeowners’ Financial Toolkit is available online. Our consumer helpline is also open to provide tropical storm or hurricane assistance at 1-800-22-STORM, or 1-800-227-8676. For a problem with a claim, you may file a request for assistance online or look up licensing information on insurance agents and adjusters at www.MyFloridaCFO.com.


Consumer Services Helpline 1-877-MY-FL-CFO

Consumer eViews  MyFloridaCFO.com/PressOffice/Newsletter/