Volume 8 Number 18 May 6, 2011
Dear Fellow Floridians:
As the Florida Legislature prepares for sine die, I applaud Governor Scott, Senate President Haridopolos and House Speaker Cannon for their courage and commitment to making tough decisions in these tight economic times. In addition to setting a budget that ensures we live within our means, state lawmakers approved meaningful reforms that will help keep money in the pockets of Floridians, where it belongs.
Through these challenges, our Senate and House leadership have tackled each obstacle with diligence and a commitment to creating the economic conditions for our state to flourish. I am eager to implement reforms passed this session that will help keep money in the pockets of Floridians by better protecting them from financial fraud and harm, and through increased transparency and accountability in contracting and budgeting.
It has truly been a successful 60 days for our state's Legislature and our fellow Floridians!
Chief Financial Officer
State of Florida
This week, less than 24 hours after the news of the death of Osama bin Laden at the hands of our brave Navy Seals, it was fitting that we gathered to pay tribute to and recognize Florida's outstanding firefighters and fire service professionals. The annual Fire Service Awards recognize the heroes who respond to all types of emergencies. Every firefighter knows that any call could be their last - yet they respond without fear and rush to the aid of their friends, neighbors and community.
At the ringing of the bell ceremony this week, we paid tribute to those who have selflessly given their lives for the safety of others. Later on in the week, I had the honor of praying for our Military and First Responders and their families at the National Day of Prayer Rally. These men and women protect and defend our freedoms, keep our streets safe and rush to our aid when fires blaze and disaster strikes. There is a high calling and it was a privilege to pray on their behalf.
I also had the opportunity to call in to the Burnie Thompson Show and Talk Sarasota Show to discuss my role as your Chief Financial Officer. It was great to discuss some of my top priorities and legislative accomplishments as the 2011 Legislative Session comes to a close.
The Fire Service Awards winners:
The Fire Service Awards are coordinated through the State Fire Marshal's Office annually and are sponsored by the following fire-service related organizations: the Florida Joint Council of Fire & Emergency Services, the Fire Training Director's Association, the Florida State Firefighters Association, the Fire Chiefs' Association, the Fire Marshal and Inspectors Association, the Professional Firefighters Association and the Emergency Preparedness Association.
Florida CFO Jeff Atwater on Tuesday announced the arrests of a clinic manager and employee on fraud and theft charges as a result of allegations that an Orlando clinic manager coerced employees to fraudulently bill Direct General Insurance Company for more than $60,000 in Personal Injury Protection (PIP) claims. Three others are still being sought.
"These arrests represent the kind of manipulation and fraud that takes place in accident clinics throughout our state and drive up auto insurance costs for all Floridians," said CFO Jeff Atwater. "I am committed to cracking down on PIP fraud, putting these thieves behind bars and finding new ways to combat this pervasive crime."
The CFO's Division of Insurance Fraud began its investigation into Bethel Health & Rehab Center Inc., located at 1441 N. Pine Hills Rd. in Orlando, after a consumer reported that the clinic allegedly fabricated documentation related to her treatment to submit to her insurance company.
Two former clinic employees, licensed massage therapists, later admitted to investigators that the clinic's manager, Jean Fritz Petoite, and two other employees at the clinic, Oliver Steven Zidor and Myrlene Saint Preux, pressured them to sign and fabricate treatment forms to submit to insurance companies.
Petoite also allegedly recruited staged accident participants with the promise of $1,000 if they visited Bethel Health & Rehab Center. The staged accident participants, Alejandro Estrada and another woman who is cooperating with investigators, were allegedly coached by Patricia Placek on how to defraud the insurance company.
Petiote and his brother, Zidor, were arrested Friday and warrants have been issued for the three others - Preux, Placek and Estrada. They all face charges including staging an accident, insurance fraud, grand theft, patient brokering and organized scheme to defraud. Possible sentences, if convicted, range from two years for those charged with staging an accident to up to 30 years in prison for organized scheme to defraud.
Keeping his commitment to fight auto insurance fraud, Florida CFO Jeff Atwater announced on Thursday the arrests of a Tampa clinic owner and a massage therapist following an undercover operation that exposed fraudulent Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance claims.
Luis Consuegra Borges, 38, owner of American Relax Center located at 4600 N. Habana Ave., Suite 18A, Tampa, and Solianid Rivera Lopresto, 32, were arrested Wednesday on charges of patient brokering and insurance fraud.
"This is a perfect example of the blatant fraud schemes that operate in our streets every day, driving insurance premiums up for all Floridians," said CFO Atwater. "We must continue to fight these fraud artists and put them behind bars."
This investigation began when detectives from the Florida Department of Financial Services' Division of Insurance Fraud (DIF), obtained testimony from three witnesses that Borges and Lopresto were paying individuals to claim they were receiving treatment at the clinic and then submitting fraudulent billings to insurance companies. Undercover fraud detectives infiltrated the clinic and witnessed the signing of false treatment forms under the direction of Lopresto. These forms were later submitted to carriers for payments.
Borges and Lopresto were booked into the Hillsborough County Jail pending bail. If convicted on the charges, they each face a maximum sentence of up to 10 years in prison. DIF was assisted during the investigation by the National Insurance Crime Bureau, USAA Insurance, Equity Insurance and United Auto Insurance.
Anyone with information regarding suspected insurance fraud is asked to call 1-800-378-0455. Individuals who provide tips can remain anonymous and are eligible for a reward of up to $25,000 for information that directly leads to an arrest and conviction in an insurance fraud scheme. The Department of Financial Services to date has awarded almost $250,000 to approximately 40 citizens as part of its Anti-Fraud Reward Program.
Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater's Bureau of Unclaimed Property returned $372,479 to 1,302 consumers Monday evening during a phone bank event for South Florida residents.
"In just an hour and a half, Florida consumers were able to get back their own hard earned dollars, and all it took was a phone call," said CFO Atwater. "Our goal is to make sure Floridians know that the Unclaimed Property database - www.FLTreasureHunt.org - is always available."
Since taking office in January, CFO Atwater has returned more than $66.8 million to Floridians on 103,267 approved claims. Unclaimed Property accounts and values for South Florida as of April 29, 2011, included:
The Unclaimed Property database does not only contain money and property for individuals, accounts for local governments, school districts and law enforcement agencies are there as well.
Currently, the Chief Financial Officer holds unclaimed property accounts valued at more than $1 billion, mostly from dormant accounts in financial institutions, insurance and utility companies, securities and trust holdings. In addition to money and securities, unclaimed property includes tangible property such as watches, jewelry, coins, currency, stamps, historical items and other miscellaneous articles from abandoned safe deposit boxes. Unclaimed money is deposited into the state school fund, where it is used for public education. There is, however, no statute of limitations, and citizens have the right to claim their property any time at no cost.
Consumers can search for Unclaimed Property by accessing the Department's website at www.FLTreasureHunt.org or by calling (888) 258-2253 or (850) 413-5555.
The Department of Financial Services' Divisions of Agent and Agency Services and Legal Services took 177 disciplinary actions against insurance professionals and other entities last month including: 22 revocations, 35 license denials, 50 administrative complaints, 30 suspensions, two cease and desists, seven probations, 46 fines totaling $104,050, and recovered more than $177,729 for consumers while conducting investigations.
Details on these actions can be found on the department's Division of Agent and Agency Services website at www.MyFloridaCFO.com/Agents.
Save energy. Save money. The Weatherization Assistance Program's (WAP) mission is to enable low-income families to permanently reduce their energy bills through weatherization.
According to the program, low-income families pay an average of 18 percent of their annual income for energy, compared with five percent for other households. The United States Department of Energy estimates that these services save weatherization customers an average of $358 annually and return an average of $2.69 in energy and non-energy related benefits for every dollar invested.
WAP is being provided through the State of Florida Department of Community Affairs. To find out more about the program and how to apply, visit: http://www.floridacommunitydevelopment.org/wap/index.cfm.