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My Florida C F O
Weekly eNewsletter from Florida's Chief Financial Officer

Dear Fellow Floridian:

On Tuesday, I stood alongside Governor Scott here in the state’s Capitol, where our laws are made, to call on our lawmakers to fix Florida’s auto insurance system. After meeting with consumers across the state, I came back to Tallahassee with one conclusion - the cost of auto insurance has skyrocketed and Floridians can’t take it much longer.PIP Press Conference

We have called on the Legislature with the support of Senators Joe Negron and Garrett Richter, and Representatives Jim Boyd, Dorothy Hukill and Bryan Nelson to address four key areas that will go a long way in driving down rates for Florida’s consumers.

  • Fraud Prevention: Florida leads the nation in fake accidents. Organized fraud rings and criminal enterprises are gaming the system and we all pay.
  • Litigation Reform: From 2006 to 2010, PIP-related lawsuits pending at year-end increased by 387 percent. Attorney fees often far exceed the value of the $10,000 coverage and the damage amounts in dispute.
  • Utilization and Provider Reform: Honest consumers are footing the bill for fake procedures at fake clinics, and we can’t throw these fraudsters in jail fast enough! Insurance should cover medical treatment for real injury; our current system is covering multiple treatments for individuals who were never injured.
  • Accountability: Every insurance company in this state will either reduce rates or have to answer to me in a public forum to explain to their customers why they have failed them.

Pip Press ConferenceRegrettably, our state’s auto insurance system has been over taken by a circling pool of piranha - fraud clinics, lawyer referral services and organized crime - that have been making their millions on the backs of every Floridian with a car on the road.

These reforms have one simple goal - to reduce the cost of auto insurance for Florida’s consumers - on behalf of the consumers of this state who have been burdened by an auto insurance system with seemingly ever-rising rates.

Jeff Atwater
Jeff Atwater
Chief Financial Officer
State of Florida

On Passing the Repeal of the Three Percent Withholding Requirement

CFO Jeff Atwater on Thursday released the following statement regarding the U.S. House of Representatives passing of HR 674 to repeal the three percent withholding requirement. The repeal bill has now passed both chambers of Congress and is on its way to the president’s desk to be signed into law.

“The threat of a three percent withholding tax has put a strain on the American entrepreneur. Today, our leaders have done the right thing by voting to repeal this burdensome backdoor tax increase,” said CFO Atwater. “In these challenging economic times, Americans do not have one more dime to give to government. It is my hope that the White House will sign this bill into law and stop shortening the leash on the American dream.”

News of Interest

St. Petersburg Times: Florida CFO Jeff Atwater calls for ban on referral services like 1-800-ASK-GARY

Lakeland Ledger: Scott Wants Change in Florida's No-Fault Insurance Program

Orlando Sentinel: Kissimmee man arrested, accused of annuity fraud

St. Petersburg Times: Uncollected online sales tax costs Florida up to $455 million a year

Florida Tribune: State lands presentation to Cabinet bolsters environmentalists' hopes

Orlando Sentinel: Employers hail bill providing tax breaks for hiring veterans

Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Florida retailers predicted to have better holiday season

Palm Beach Post: Hiring begins for 650 construction jobs at FPL Riviera Beach plant

Florida Today: Harris plans $100 million engineering center in Palm Bay

Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Florida tourism rises 5.1 percent in third quarter

Palm Beach Post: Lockheed Martin to build unmanned submarines in Riviera Beach

Tampa Tribune: USF gets $60 million for diabetes care, research

St. Petersburg Times: Strategy pays off, officials say, with 4,166 jobs in Hillsborough

Protecting Those Who Protect Us

This week, I had the honor of participating in a roundtable with national and state leaders on military and veterans issues, including CFO Atwater, Holly Petraeus, AG BondiHolly Petraeus, Director of the Office of Servicemember Affairs, to find ways to combat fraud targeted against military personnel.

As part of my Your Money Matter$ initiative, I have committed to improving financial education for the more than 1.6 million veterans and 58,000 active duty military stationed in Florida.

Left to right: CFO Atwater, Dir. Petraeus, AG Bondi

Wednesday's roundtable, held at the Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, focused on scams, predatory lending products, housing issues, financial education, payday loans and car buying schemes targeting military personnel and veterans. Our military service members have committed themselves to protecting and securing our freedom. We are fighting back for those who fight for us to ensure that here, in Florida, we are protecting them from financial fraud and scams.

Florida’s Agency of the Year

CFO Atwater’s Department of Financial Services (DFS) will be recognized by the Department of Management Services’ (DMS) Office of Supplier Diversity (OSD) as the State of Florida’s Agency of the Year for supporting Florida’s minority business community during the past fiscal year.

“This award affirms my department’s commitment to Florida’s small and minority businesses - both vital components of Florida’s economy,” said CFO Atwater. “We will continue to provide fair and open competition, while helping businesses of all sizes partner with the State of Florida to provide the best value to taxpayers. We are honored to receive this recognition from the Office of Supplier Diversity.”

The distinguished award will be presented at the MatchMaker Conference on Nov. 16 through 18, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The theme for the conference is “Paving the Way: Jobs, Growth & Economic Revitalization in the Sunshine State.” DFS will be honored as the only state agency to increase its minority spending by more than $1 million, from $3,114,347 in FY 2009-10 to $4,620,129 in FY 2010-11 - a 48 percent increase.

OSD functions within DMS to improve business and economic opportunities for Florida’s minority, women and service-disabled veteran business enterprises. Three core functions of the OSD are:

  • Certification of Business Enterprises: State certification is Florida's premier stamp of approval for minority, women, and service-disabled veteran business enterprises.
  • Advocacy and Outreach: Serves as an advocate and information resource for business owners, state agencies, vendors, the public and other entities.
  • MatchMaking: Activities designed to build relationships between businesses and state agency purchasing specialists, non-minority vendors and other decision makers.

Senior Annuity Scammer Arrested

CFO Atwater announced on Wednesday the arrest of Victor Edwin Ruser, Sr., 59, of Kissimmee, for allegedly scamming nine seniors between the ages of 80 and 94 out of over $650,000 in an annuity fraud scheme. Ruser was charged with multiple felony counts including exploitation of the elderly, grand theft and perpetrating a scheme to defraud.Badge for Division of Insurance Fraud

“Specifically targeting seniors to defraud them out of their life savings will not be tolerated in Florida,” said CFO Atwater. “These seniors worked hard their entire lives and trusted this individual with the dollars they responsibly set aside for their retirement years. My office will continue to track down these scammers and protect your hard-earned dollars.”

After the Florida Department of Financial Services’ Division of Consumer Services received a complaint from a victim, an investigation by the Division of Insurance Fraud alleged that over a period of seven years Ruser aggressively “churned” annuities of his senior clientele by talking them into terminating their policies and then investing them into new accounts. This caused large surrender charge penalties for the investors involved while Ruser earned commissions on each transaction.

Ruser invested his clients’ money into TruVest, LLC and Alliance Life and Investments Company accounts, which he solely owned and operated. Further investigation revealed no insurance or investment vehicle within these companies and all monies had been converted to Ruser’s personal use.

Ruser was booked into Osceola County Jail on Sunday and is being held with bond set at $1.3 million. If convicted, he could face up to 205 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.