Volume 8 Number 25 June 24, 2011

Dear Fellow Floridians:

Two Division of Forestry firefighters, Josh Burch, below left, andState Fire Marshal Brett Fulton, below right, lost their lives and two others, Robert Martin and Stephen Carpenter, were injured Monday while fighting the Blue Ribbon Fire in Hamilton County, one of 1,500 wildfires continuing to burn as a result of a drought that began May 1, 2011.

We mourn the loss of these brave firefighters who tragically lost their lives while fighting to protect our fellow Floridians from the wildfires that have been burning throughout our state. Our thoughts and prayers go out to their families and the entire firefighter community.Joshua Burch Brett Fulton

The firefighters of the Division of Forestry deserve our gratitude for moving on a moment’s notice to fight these fires. They are the first responders who put their lives on the line to protect us, our homes and our communities from these wildfires.

Sincerely,

Jeff





Jeff Atwater
Chief Financial Officer
State of Florida


State Fire Marshal's 'Last Alarm' bell with wreaths.


Maintaining a High Bond Rating Is Important for Florida

This week, I had the opportunity to travel to New York City and meet with rating agencies, investors and financial advisors to discuss Florida’s financial standing. Florida can proudly boast a AAA bond rating, the best you can achieve, from two out of the three rating agencies and a AA1 rating from the third. A state’s bond ratings are similar to your personal credit score. Just as your credit score dictates what your interest rate will be for your mortgage or car loan, Florida’s bond rating dictates what our state’s interest rate will be when we borrow money to finance state projects.

Maintaining a high bond rating is an important component to ensuring our state’s economic recovery and future prosperity. Our bond rating gives investors the confidence to work with us to fund projects that can aid in our state’s economic success. It also equates to savings for our state and for our taxpayers. Simply put, maintaining our AAA bond rating helps keep money in the pockets of hard-working Floridians and is one of the most important factors to creating a prosperous future for our state and protecting our taxpayers’ dollars.


Fox Business News

Florida CFO Atwater Live on Fox Business

I had the pleasure of appearing on Fox Business Network with Dagen McDowell and Connell McShane on Wednesday morning.

Please check out the interview at the link below.


http://video.foxsmallbusinesscenter.com/v/1013691635001/florida-cfo-on-pension-battle/?playlist_id=87185


FIFCOCFO Addresses the Florida Institute of Chief Financial Officers

On Thursday, I had the honor of speaking to the Florida Institute of Chief Financial Officers—Florida’s only member-driven “think tank” specifically designed for CFOs of companies who do business in excess of $50 million. These CFOs represent companies— Syniverse Technologies, Checkers Drive-In Restaurants and HSNi, just to name a few—that are playing a vitally important role in Florida’s economy.

I am committed to help strengthen Florida's business environment.


Department Staff Chosen to Participate on Prestigious Panel

On June 29, one of my department staff will take part in a Youth Leaders Forum panel discussion: "How to Ensure Young Leaders Engage in Democracy Building." This Youth Leaders Forum is sponsored by Lithuania’s Presidency of the Community of Democracies, an organization established Lithuania's Presidency of the Community of Democraciesto support and strengthen democratic institutions, especially those governments in transition and pretransition countries and to promote economic, civil and social rights in the global community.

I am proud that a member of my staff has been chosen to be a part of this important panel discussion that will help foster international relations and diplomacy.


CFO Jeff Atwater Announces Seven Arrests in Palm Beach PIP Fraud Sting

Fraud badgeAs a part of a statewide crackdown on personal injury protection (PIP) fraud, Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater announced  the arrests of seven south Florida residents on charges of insurance fraud and grand theft stemming from their involvement in a PIP fraud scam regarding fraudulent medical billings by Elite Rehabilitation Services Center, Inc., in Palm Beach.

“These arrests show the alarming rate at which these clinics churn out fraudulent billings, all at the expense of honest Floridians,” said CFO Atwater. “These fraudsters are the face of high insurance premiums in Florida and help make up what amounts to a nearly billion dollar fraud tax.”

An investigation by the Florida Department of Financial Services, Division of Insurance Fraud, identified seven suspects who filed fraudulent medical billings with Allstate Insurance Company resulting from alleged traffic crashes that occurred in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade County.

Maritza Cuellar de Becerra, Lady Li, Kenny Hernandez, Roberto Rodriguez Gomez, Miriam Perez Gonzalez and Mariuska Palacio all stated that they received treatment from Elite Rehabilitation Services Center, Inc., located at 2125 10th Avenue North in Palm Beach County. Each individual stated under oath that they received medical services, but surveillance conducted on the center showed that they never received treatment from the clinic. Maria Cristina Suarez, a licensed massage therapist at Elite Rehab who was also arrested, signed numerous medical documents attesting to the treatments, later deemed fraudulent.

The Division of Insurance Fraud was assisted in this investigation by Allstate Insurance Company and the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB). All suspects were booked into the Palm Beach County Jail and, if convicted, face up to five years in prison.

Anyone with information regarding suspected insurance fraud is asked to call 1-800-378-0445. 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.


Insurance FraudState Fire MarshalCFO Atwater Calls for Your Help in Ongoing Search for ‘Most Wanted’ Insurance Fraud Fugitives

Continuing his effort to crack down on insurance fraud, Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater is calling for all Floridians to be on the lookout for Florida’s “Most Wanted” insurance fraud suspects. CFO Atwater is asking Floridians to visit www.myfloridacfo.com/pressoffice/mostwanted to learn more about suspects sought by the CFO’s Division of Insurance Fraud or State Fire Marshal on charges ranging from fraud to arson.

“We must remain diligent in our fight against insurance fraud that costs the average Florida family between $400 and $700 a year in increased premiums,” said CFO Jeff Atwater. “These scam artists are still on the streets, and I need your help to bring them to justice before someone you know becomes their next victim.”

CFO Atwater wants your help in locating:

Crimes like these drive up insurance premiums for all Floridians and often involve some kind of identity theft.

CFO Atwater is committed to pursuing fraudsters who are on the run. Just last week, Han Vy Nguyen, wanted since May 2010, was arrested in Tampa. Nguyen was wanted for two counts of wire fraud totaling more than $228,000. Nguyen along with his coconspirator Bich-Thuy Ngoc Bach, who was arrested in September 2010, obtained funds from multiple investors with a promise of financial returns on their investment of up to 1,000 percent. Nguyen’s banking history revealed funds in excess of $2.9 million associated with multiple wire fraud transactions and investments connected to a large Ponzi scheme that ripped off innocent investors trying to plan for their futures.

Anyone with information about these or any other incidents of suspected insurance fraud is asked to call 1-800-378-0445. 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.


Fraud badge

CFO Atwater Announces Conviction of Jacksonville Man in Elaborate Workers’ Comp Fraud Scheme, Illegal Check Cashing Operation

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater announced today the conviction of a Jacksonville man in an elaborate workers’ compensation fraud scheme. David Rodriguez Socarras appeared before the Fourth Judicial Circuit Court Monday and pled guilty to five charges, including application fraud and workers’ compensation fraud, for running a “shell company” to pay undocumented workers and avoiding workers’ compensation premiums. Socarras was sentenced to four years in prison and ordered to pay more than $400,000 in restitution.

“Employers who commit workers’ compensation fraud put workers at risk and drive up premiums for all businesses, and it will not be tolerated,” said CFO Atwater. “This conviction is an acknowledgment of the hard work and dedication of our fraud investigators. Not only are we going to track down these fraudsters, but we are developing strong cases that will get them off the streets and behind bars where they belong.”

An investigation by the Florida Department of Financial Services, Division of Insurance Fraud, revealed that in October 2007, Socarras used a fraudulent Social Security card and birth certificate to obtain an ID card with the alias Harry Marrero Vasquez. He then established a shell company with the name HMV Construction in order to obtain a minimal workers’ compensation policy. With the insurance policy in hand, Socarras proceeded to cash 80 checks at a Jacksonville check cashing store for a total of more than $2.9 million. The cash was used to pay groups of undocumented workers, and by using the shell company, Socarras avoided paying the necessary workers’ compensation premiums and taxes needed for a payroll of that size.

In response to CFO Atwater’s continued crackdown on insurance fraud in Florida, investigators have arrested 529 fraudsters since the start of the year, including 147 workers’ compensation fraud arrests.

The Division of Insurance Fraud investigation was assisted by the department’s Division of Workers’ Compensation, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. The case was prosecuted by Assistant State Attorney Joseph Licandro from the Office of State Attorney Angela Corey.

Anyone with information about these or any other incidents of suspected insurance fraud is asked to call 1-800-378-0445. 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.


Hurricane Season: Are you prepared?

If You Rent Your Home, You Still Need Coverage

Disasters do not differentiate between individuals who rent or own their homes. Renters face the same financial risks as homeowners. The insurance policy held by your landlord or condo association only protects the building structure, not your personal items inside, so you should consider renters insurance to protect your property.

Renters insurance covers more than just the contents of a rental home or apartment. Renters insurance can provide coverage for improvements you make to the home, and it can provide coverage for additional living expenses you may incur if you have to live elsewhere while repairs are being made. In addition, renters insurance normally provides liability coverage, which covers you and other insured residents in the event that someone is injured on your rented property and you are determined negligent. In most cases, the insurance company must also defend you if you are sued.

For additional information, visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com.