Volume 8 Number 10 March 11, 2011
Dear Fellow Floridians:
Today I had the distinct honor of joining together with Holocaust survivors, Jewish community leaders and members of the banking community at MorseLife in West Palm Beach to reinvigorate the partnership with financial institutions to waive the wire transfer fees charged to Holocaust survivors and their families on payments for Holocaust-related reparations from the German government.
An estimated 12,500 Florida Holocaust survivors and their families are currently being assessed an international wire transfer fee, ranging from $10 to $40 per transaction, on their $300 to $350 monthly reparation payments. This transfer fee amounts to a 10 percent tax on each payment a survivor receives. This is a significant financial burden considering that the vast majority of survivors rely on these payments to make ends meet.
I have called on the chief executive officers of Florida financial institutions to sign a commitment pledge to voluntarily waive these wire transfer fees. Seventeen financial institutions with more than 1,800 branches statewide have already pledged to waive these fees for Holocaust survivors. Waiving this fee is a powerful reflection of the willingness of Florida’s financial community to contribute to the wellbeing of this important group of Floridians.
My goal is to have every financial institution in this state pledge to waive the wire transfer fees on Holocaust reparation payments and that not one more survivor would be taxed on the payments they so greatly deserve after suffering such an atrocity. As your CFO, there is nothing I can do that will ever fully repay those who suffered through the Holocaust, but I will do all I can to help these survivors keep their money in their pockets, where it belongs.
Chief Financial Officer
State of Florida
The 2011 Legislative Session got underway this Tuesday, bringing new opportunities to implement reforms that will reduce costs, protect consumers, and help facilitate a vibrant marketplace. CFO Atwater aims to ensure that proposed changes keep his ultimate goal at the forefront—to keep Floridians hard-earned money in their pockets, where it belongs.
This week, CFO Atwater’s initiatives to fight Personal Injury Protection and Medicaid Fraud were highlighted in an editorial by the Miami Herald entitled, “Insurance Fraud Costs Us All.” Please check out the editorial at the following link: http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/03/07/2102676/insurance-fraud-costs-us-all.html.
I recently had the opportunity to stop into Veneto Builders, a general contracting and home building business in Winter Park. Owners Andy Lockhart, Bob Dietz and Jeff Paglialonga have over 85 years of experience collectively in the real estate, construction and insurance industries. This dynamic trio brings a broad understanding to the field of general contracting and home building.
Andy’s entrepreneurial spirit led him to build a company that focused on renovating homes, targeting homeowners who could not sell their homes due to the decline in the real estate market. These homeowners desperately needed more space for their growing families, and this trio helped fill that need. Andy joined forces with Bob and Jeff, and Veneto Builders was established. Now it is a full-service building company and is involved with several design-build custom homes, custom remodels and additions as well as contracting multiple insurance restoration and re-build projects. This trio exemplifies the meaning of entrepreneurship.
Florida CFO Jeff Atwater announced on Thursday the surrender of public adjuster Erasmo Zorilla in Miami who attempted to defraud the North Pointe Casualty Insurance Company out of almost $2.5 million in an insurance claim associated with Hurricane Wilma.
“This is yet another example of the unscrupulous insurance fraud schemes pulling money out of the pockets of Floridians and reputable businesses,” said CFO Atwater. “We will continue to work hard to fight fraud and protect your hard-earned money.”
Zorilla surrendered to detectives from the Florida Division of Insurance Fraud and Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations. He is charged with grand theft in the first degree and insurance fraud in the first degree after the investigation showed he had attempted to obtain $2,442,774 from North Pointe Casualty Insurance Company for roof replacement for the buildings at Country Club of Miami. Zorilla was employed by Five Star Claims Adjusting Company, who was retained to represent the owners of Country Club of Miami in a supplemental Hurricane Wilma claim.
In May 2010, Zorilla submitted paperwork to North Pointe indicating that the tile on the roofs was not available any more, and that all of the roofs would have to be retiled to ensure they matched. Investigators contacted the distributor who advised no one had ever shown them a sample from that location. Investigators then spoke to the original supplier of the roofing tiles at the site, and discovered they are readily available. Zorilla stated he conducted his inspection by standing outside of his car and looking up at some of the buildings and seeing some tile damage.
Zorilla was arrested and transported to Dade County Jail, where he will be held pending posting of $20,000 bond.
This case is part of a continuing crackdown by CFO Atwater’s Property and Casualty Insurance Fraud Task Force. If you or someone you know has been the victim of insurance fraud please visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com for more information or call our toll-free Fraud Hotline at 1-800-378-0445.
Highlighting the work of the department’s enforcement divisions, this week’s column features the Division of Public Assistance Fraud, which operates within the Department of Financial Services. This newly established division works to combat and prosecute those who participate in public assistance fraud.
Former Department of Children and Family employee Wendy Torres, 43, and Juan Quijano, 31, both of Ft. Lauderdale, were arrested on February 21 and booked into Broward County Jail on charges of grand theft and public assistance fraud. Torres allegedly used her position as an eligibility worker to create a fraudulent application resulting in benefits for her boyfriend, in effect aiding and abetting the crime. It was later determined Torres prepared assistance applications for family members for her boyfriend, which was a direct violation of the DCF’s policy prohibiting employees from working on "personal interest" cases.
The investigation was conducted by the Broward Public Assistance Fraud Unit, and the Broward County State Attorney’s Office is prosecuting the charges.
Read this before you change your clocks this Sunday.
Spring Forward! Circle back. Daylight savings time is a great way that we cut back on energy costs by fully taking advantage of the natural light of the sun. Make sure that you are getting all the benefits of natural energy by remembering to change any automatic light timers in your house. It just takes a few minutes to circle back and reset your timers; your utility bill and your wallet will thank you.
Florida CFO Jeff Atwater is encouraging Floridians to learn more about how to protect themselves from scams by participating in National Consumer Protection Week 2011, which continues through Saturday, March 12. CFO Atwater’s Department of Financial Services is hosting or participating in 30 events around the state during the week to promote awareness, including workshops on identify theft, insurance needs when buying a home, and protecting seniors.
Floridians interested in getting details about an event or who would like to request an event in their area can log on to www.myfloridacfo.com/Consumers/OutReach/index.htm.
“My department works each day with consumers throughout Florida to assist them in recognizing and recovering from financial fraud, as well as educating them on how to protect themselves from scams,” said CFO Atwater. “We provide tools and resources, and assist consumers ranging from teens to seniors, to help them keep and protect their hard-earned money.”
CFO Atwater’s Division of Consumer Services has helped nearly 38,000 consumers in 2011 through his Consumer Helpline, so far recovering nearly $4 million in refunds and claims payments for consumers.
Over the last year, the division has provided more than 1,000 free community outreach programs on a variety of financial and insurance subjects. CFO Atwater’s key outreach initiatives this year include fighting insurance and financial fraud, supporting small business growth including assistance to businesses and the workforce who were impacted by the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, and helping homeowners and business owners prepare financially for hurricanes and other potential disasters.
In one instance, Consumer Services Helpline staff received a call regarding an insurance agent who misrepresented an annuity product he sold to a senior couple from the Panhandle. Helpline staff contacted the insurance company on their behalf to seek restitution for the couple. Through the department’s intervention, the insurance company returned the couple’s investment of approximately $100,000 plus interest.
In another example, a Coral Springs man called about his father’s home health care policy and complained that the company was repeatedly denying any further coverage even though the policy provided for it. When the department presented documentation indicating the coverage should be provided, the company approved an additional 1,460 days of home health coverage, totaling $219,000 of coverage.
Department staff have also been providing support for victims of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. Throughout the past 10 months, claimants like Lynne Foster, owner of BeachPops in Pensacola Beach, and Gary and Ellen Eichler, owners of Satisfaction Guaranteed Fishing Charters in Naples, have utilized staff at the department to get help with their Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF) claims.
For more information about how CFO Atwater’s Department of Financial Services can assist you or a calendar of outreach events throughout the state, visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com. Consumers can also call (850) 413-3089 or toll-free 1-877-My-FL-CFO (1-877-693-5236) for assistance with questions or complaints. For more information on National Consumer Protection Week, visit www.consumer.gov.