Volume 6 Number 39 September 25, 2009
This week I got the chance to see first-hand the great work of some of our Department’s sworn law enforcement officers, and hear how they are teaming up with local police and sheriffs to crack down on crime and protect communities across Florida. In Bay County, I was briefed about our arson investigators’ work on a local task force to curb the rising trend of “shake and bake” meth production. This is an extremely dangerous crime that can result in a fiery explosion, such as a recent case that caused a one-year-old baby to suffer burns on nearly half her body. I then visited the scene of the latest meth-related fire arrest with some of our State Fire Marshal investigators.
Also Wednesday, I was in Escambia County to learn about the latest arrest by our Division of Insurance Fraud. Just that day, following a lead from our Workers’ Compensation Division, DIF had arrested a man who lied about the number of employees he had on payroll to reduce his workers’ comp fees. Because of this violation, his workers if injured would face devastating medical bills and serious financial hardship.
I commend these investigators and the hundreds of sworn law enforcement officers in our Department for their continued efforts to keep Floridians safe.
State of Florida
State Fire Marshal Alex Sink joined Panama City Mayor Scott Clemons, local State Fire Marshal investigators, and officers from the Bay County Sheriff’s Office and Panama City Police Department on Wednesday for a meeting with the Bay Area Gang Enforcement Squad (BADGES) on the dangers of “shake and bake” meth labs.
A recent string of meth lab explosions has put the local community on alarm and prompted BADGES to ramp up efforts to stem these fires, combining groups with different skills to investigate meth-related crimes. BADGES is made up of sheriff’s deputies, city police officers, and CFO Sink’s Bureau of Fire and Arson investigators. CFO Sink’s investigators can help identify that fires were caused by meth labs through on-site clues and the assistance of specially trained K-9’s.
CFO Sink received a slide-show briefing from Capt. Faith Bell of the Bay County Sheriff’s Office on recent fires caused by “shake and bake” meth in the Panama City area and the resulting victims and arrests. This included information on a local meth-related fire in August that caused one-year-old Johna Osborne to suffer second and third-degree burns to nearly half her body.
She also heard from State Fire Marshal Lieutenant Les Nelson on the strong, coordinated effort between the local police, sheriffs and fire marshal office that has allowed Panama City law enforcement officials to crack down on these crimes. After the briefing, the CFO visited the site of the most recent “shake and bake” meth fire that occurred in mid-September.
According to reports, Bay County has seized about 43 meth labs this year. After visiting the local home burned by the “shake-and-bake” meth fire, CFO Sink urged the community to immediately report any suspicious activity to local law enforcement.
School is back in session and we all know what that means, football season! This is the perfect time to talk to students about fiscal responsibility and financial literacy as they plan for their future.
CFO Sink and the Department of Financial Services hope to help students reach their education and financial goals by playing Financial Football.
The Financial Football program, which can be accessed from the DFS homepage, includes a standard edition for high school students and an advanced edition for college students. Players can pick a team and answer questions that range from easy to difficult. A mobile version is also available for those who wish to Play It Mobile on their cell phone.
The game contains three comprehensive sections, complete with money management resources and lesson plans tailored for use at home, in the classroom or at work. There are also learning modules like The Fundamental Concepts of Investment and Defensive Spending, which consist of problems and detailed answer breakdowns.
Visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com and click on the Financial Football icon in the bottom corner of the page to get in the game! Call our Consumer Helpline at (850) 413-3089 or toll free at 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (1-877-693-5236) with any insurance or financial related inquiries.
Florida CFO Alex Sink on Wednesday announced that her Division of Insurance Fraud has arrested an Escambia County man on charges of falsifying employment numbers with the intent of avoiding higher workers’ compensation premium payments. The arrest underscores CFO Sink’s work to toughen penalties and crack down on insurance fraud criminals, whose actions cost not just businesses but also everyday consumers who face higher premiums because of this kind of fraud.
Mauricio Soto, 33, of Mauricio Soto Concrete Construction Inc., has been charged with Workers’ Compensation Fraud, a first-degree felony. If convicted, Soto faces up to 30 years behind bars and a $10,000 fine.
“Injured workers can face devastating medical bills and serious financial hardship if their employers aren’t properly covered,” said CFO Sink. “I commend our Insurance Fraud investigators for exposing this criminal activity, and will continue to enforce compliance to make sure that all Floridians are protected on the job.”
Following site inspections over the past year on job sites in Escambia and Santa Rosa County, it was discovered that 32 individuals worked for Mauricio Soto Construction Inc.; however, audits and state records revealed Mauricio Soto was reporting less. When tipped off to the inconsistent number of employees reported, investigators also discovered that Soto owed nearly $660,000 in premiums for workers’ comp coverage for the over $4 million he was paid in subcontracting fees in the past three years.
As Florida’s CFO, Sink oversees the Department of Financial Services’ Division of Workers’ Compensation, which conducted nearly 30,000 onsite investigations of worksites to determine employer compliance for the 2008-2009 fiscal year. The division also recently launched a new whistleblower web site, which makes it easier for citizens to submit complaints online about suspected non-compliance and provides real-time feedback to complainants. Examples of non-compliant workers’ compensation coverage include working without workers’ compensation, under-reporting payroll such as paying employees in cash instead of from checks from payroll, and misclassifying employees in order to receive a lower workers’ compensation rate. For more information about CFO Sink’s Division of Workers Compensation or to submit a complaint, visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com.
As the cooler weather approaches, many Florida families will turn off their air conditioners and consequently lower their electricity bills. This is a good time of year to assess the entire household for unnecessary energy utilization, especially gadgets that run all the time but do not necessarily get used all the time.
On average, Americans spend significant amounts of money on needless energy use --- things such as computer screens, lighted diodes, and even refrigerator doors left ajar, can contribute to enormous energy costs without contributing to a higher quality of life.
Take a few moments to think through the average American household's energy footprint, and then do a walk-through in your own home to see if you can identify any unnecessary energy utilization. According to the International Energy Agency and the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, US households have more gadgets than ever before, with energy allocations as follow below.
If your family can identify a few percentage points of household reduction, you will not only save money in your monthly bills but you will be contributing to a lower energy footprint for the planet.
Last week, three bureaus of the State Fire Marshal Division -- Firefighter Safety, Standards and Training (Florida State Fire College), and Prevention – participated and played an important role in the 2009 Northwest Florida Volunteer Firefighter Weekend in Niceville, Florida. It was the fourth annual time the event was held, which provides essential training and updates to volunteer firefighters from around the state.
The event kicked off on Wednesday, September 16, with a full 40-hour course, Fire Service Course Delivery, that was added to the syllabus last year. Fire Service Course Delivery is a required class for someone to become a fire instructor and was well attended. Following his final examination in which attendees deliver a teaching presentation, Bill Kennedy of the Destin Fire Control District said, “I quickly found out that my teaching methods will be primarily influenced by the way I learned.”
A variety of different coursework was offered through the weekend. On Saturday, twenty students attended “Farm Medic” to learn the proper ways to disengage the dangerous parts of farm machinery, while others were in the classroom learning basic incident management or highway safety operations. There were also classes from the National Fire Academy, and The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. And, “Calling the Mayday” gave students a chance to follow hose lines through a maze of complications while their mask was blacked out to simulate situations where touch and other senses are utilized. Of course, the burn building was also a popular place to be.
Saturday evening, bagpipes started the festivities for the annual banquet. Fire Chief Cindy Dick of the Tallahassee Fire Department expressed her pleasure in how safety played such a large role in the weekend activities, and Mike Cox with the SFM Prevention Division read remarks from CFO Sink expressing her appreciation for the event and for the volunteers themselves. The chairman of the Florida Fire and Emergency Services Foundation, Tuffy Dixon, offered ongoing support for similar educational opportunities in the state.
On Sunday, the new skills learned were put to the test when 67 participants took the Firefighter I examination. Charlie Frank, President of the Northwest Florida Volunteer Firefighter Weekend, said, “It is a lot of work to pull this weekend off, but the rewards just cannot be measured. We have a dedicated committee that expands each year, which in turn, expands the opportunities. After a few hours’ rest, I will be looking toward a bigger and better weekend next year.”
Recently, over 500 Floridians took advantage of the National Disability Institute and City of Jacksonville’s Blueprint for Prosperity Community Empowerment Expo in Jacksonville, FL. The theme of the event was “Building a Pathway to Prosperity”. Targeting low and middle income families and those with disabilities, the event showcased community financial resources and workshops to improve the financial literacy of attendees.
During the event, the Department of Financial Services hosted a Florida Housing Help workshop where HUD-certified counseling agencies provided information on the foreclosure process and available programs and assistance. In addition, the event featured workshops on credit repair, career building, managing on a limited budget, wealth, leading a healthy life, and advanced training/education.
Following the Florida Housing Help workshop, the Department also conducted an Unclaimed Property Search for attendees. Over 25 people found money and assets ranging from dormant bank accounts, last paychecks, stocks, dividends, utility deposits, and unclaimed insurance proceeds.
Megan, a resident at the I.M. Sulzbacher Center for the Homeless, found a last paycheck from Anheuser- Busch. Willie P. said, “Thank you!” after finding his last paycheck from the City of Jacksonville. He indicated that his brother saw his name in the newspaper several years ago but he was told it was a scam. Wilbur had forgotten about stock that he and his mother bought in Citizens Bancshare. Anthony said, “Unbelievable!” after finding a paycheck from 1999 when working during high school at UPS. Mitchell’s wife recently passed away but he found a store credit from Sears in her name.
The Florida Department of Financial Services is holding millions of dollars of unclaimed claimed money. Look for your own buried treasure for free at www.fltreasurehunt.org or call (888) 258-2253.
To arrange for a Florida Housing Help workshop in your area, call the Consumer Helpline at (850) 413-3089 or toll-free at 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (1-877-693-5236). Make sure you visit our Consumer Services Outreach calendar to see events taking place in your community.
Important Florida Housing Help (FHH) events:
9/26 Home Rescue Fair
Tampa Convention Center (Ballroom D)
333 South Franklin Street, Tampa 9:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.
10/10 Florida Housing Help
CFCC Ewers Century Center, Klein Conference Facility
3001 SW College Road, Ste. 205, Ocala 10:00-4:00 p.m.
10/16 Florida Housing Help
The Cultural Center of Charlotte County
2280 Aaron Street, Port Charlotte 1:00 – 5:00 p.m.
10/21 Florida Housing Help Joseph P. D'Alessandro Office Complex (State Building)
2295 Victoria Ave., Fort Myers, FL 5:00-8:00 p.m.
10/28 War on Poverty-Florida (inside Gateway Mall)
Gateway Mall, 5196-A Norwood Ave, Jacksonville 5:00-8:00 p.m.
11/7 Florida Housing Help Englewood Neighborhood Center
6123 La Costa Drive, Orlando 10:00-4:00 p.m.
When Hurricane Katrina hit several years ago, Facebook was in its infancy and Twitter had not been developed yet. In 2009, we have those tools at our fingertips through not only the Internet, but super technological phone devices and other gadgets.
With the help of social media, your friends and loved ones don’t have to wait through a disaster to know that you are ok. Here are ways social media can help.
Emicus.com is a site full of free tools that help you prepare for and recover from a natural disaster. Here, you can connect with others and share information.
One of the tools on Emicus.com is the "I'm OK" service. This feature allows you to send a text message via Phone, SMS or Email that lets your contacts know you're safe. Before a storm, you just sign in and add your emergency contacts. You are then given a number to text to in the event of a storm. When you text "I'm OK" followed by a personal message, it will be sent to all of your contacts. This message can even be read aloud over a standard phone line. The site also has a hurricane planning option.
Twitter is a great way to keep track of a storm and connect with people who may be in need of help. It also allows you to post real time information to let your followers know you are ok. Real time information in your tweetstream will keep you in the loop with storm-related news as well as letting others know how you are. Here are a just a few of the many Twitter accounts that you should follow in the event of a natural disaster.
@hurricanealerts: hurricane alerts and tropical storm updates and advisories for the coastal U.S.
@breakingweather: updates on tropical storms and other severe weather conditions.
@stormpulse: frequent updates on tropical weather worth tracking.
Many local televisions stations use Twitter to update viewers about weather and major news events. Check your local station's Web site for that information.
Make sure your loved ones and friends know how to find you on Twitter in the event of a storm. It is a great way to receive and give information to your followers.
Follow the Department’s events and receive updates on Twitter at www.twitter.com/CFOAlexSink.
The recession won't last forever, but in the meantime, you need to stay on track financially and develop good money management habits.
One place to save through the end of the year is on holiday gifts. Remember that putting the cost of gifts on credit cards is not a wise move for sound financial planning.
Americans average more than $750 yearly on holiday gifts and that's probably much more than most would like to spend. If your gift-giving is costing you more than you can realistically afford there's a good chance it's more than your relatives and friends can afford.
Broach the subject. Offer reasonable alternatives such as giving only to the children or putting a dollar amount on gifts per person. Another option is to regift - most of us have items we have collected that would be appreciated by others.
Get creative - make a personalized or artistic gift from inexpensive parts. The only limit is your imagination!
More than likely your relatives and friends will be grateful that someone finally raised the subject of excessive spending for another gadget. And everyone can save money in the process.