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

Dear Fellow Floridian:

As the holiday shopping season nears its end, it is easy to get caught up in the rush to complete your shopping lists. While shopping online can be a quick and easy to way to find the perfect gifts for your loved ones, there are risks to providing your credit or debit information online. However, worry not, there are simple steps you can take to better protect yourself from fraudsters who are looking to capitalize on this busy shopping season.ID Theft Infographic

Click on infographic to enlarge.

These helpful tips will help to make your season bright:

  • Always look for the lock icon and “https” in your web browser’s address bar to ensure your confidential information is being protected by the retailer;
  • Never save or store your credit card information online;
  • Keep track of all online purchases to ensure you get exactly what you ordered;
  • Monitor billing statements for unauthorized charges;
  • If possible, make all online purchases with one card to more easily track your spending.

As we gather with our loved ones to celebrate this joyful season, I hope you will join me in reflecting on what’s truly important during the holidays – the time we share with loved ones and expressing our gratitude for all we’ve been blessed with this year.

For more information on how you can protect yourself this holiday season, visit our website.

Jeff Atwater
Jeff Atwater
Chief Financial Officer
State of Florida

News of Interest

Miami Herald: Venture capital investing up in Florida

Miami Herald: Record numbers expected for holiday travel

Florida Times-Union: Economic outlook for 2014 decidedly brighter among economists

Florida Trend: Growing Florida's startup companies

Sun-Sentinel: South Florida homes to gain $83 billion in value

USA Today: Pool of underwater home mortgages shrinks 40%

Tampa Bay Times: Tampa to host 2017 college football national championship

Washington Post: US consumer prices flat as gas costs keep falling

Orlando Attorney Charged with Stealing Personal Injury Settlement Money

This week, CFO Atwater announced the arrest of Orlando Attorney Raymond (Ramon) Ismael Melendez of the Melendez Law Firm, P.A. for allegedly stealing insurance settlement proceeds totaling nearly $80,000 from three personal injury clients. The charges allege that between February 2011 and June 2012, Melendez withheld notification of the settlement agreements from his clients and hid the money for personal use.

“Attorneys are trained to earn the trust of their clients and serve their clients’ interests, not steal the settlements they are hired to secure,” said CFO Atwater. “Thanks to the dedicated work of law enforcement and our investigators, this man can no longer defraud the system or the public’s trust.”Division of Insurance Fraud Badge

An investigation by the Department of Financial Services’ Division of Insurance Fraud revealed that on three separate occasions, in cases against three different insurance companies, Melendez negotiated settlements on behalf of his client and deposited the settlement checks into his public service fund trust account. Rather than notifying the client of the settlement, Melendez lied and told each client that no settlement had been reached and their cases remained in litigation. The money was then moved from the trust account and converted to Melendez personal use.

Melendez is charged with one count of organized scheme to defraud, one count of grand theft second degree and two counts of grand theft third degree. He was booked into the Orange County Jail and remains the subject of ongoing investigations. Anyone who feels they may have fallen victim to his actions is encouraged to contact the Division of Insurance Fraud’s Orlando field office at (407) 835- 4402. Citizens who provide tips can remain anonymous.

The Department of Financial Services to date has awarded almost $342,000 to more than 50 citizens as part of its Anti-Fraud Reward Program. The program rewards individuals up to $25,000 for information that directly leads to an arrest and conviction in an insurance fraud scheme.

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, a statewide elected official, oversees the Department of Financial Services. CFO Atwater’s priorities include fighting financial fraud, abuse and waste in government; reducing government spending and regulatory burdens that chase away businesses and providing transparency and accountability in state spending.

Fort Myers Chiropractor Linked to PIP Fraud Arrested

CFO Atwater recently announced the arrest of Harold John Pompey, 68, a licensed chiropractor working at Gate Parkway Diagnostics Center (GPDC) in Fort Myers for scheming to defraud multiple insurance carriers by filing false and fraudulent insurance claims in order to collect PIP insurance benefits. Investigators uncovered that Pompey and GPDC were merely completing forms in order to support fraudulent claims being filed for insurance PIP funds to be paid to GPD.

“PIP fraud impacts all Floridians by driving up auto insurance rates,” said CFO Atwater. “I am proud of our dedicated fraud investigators who work to protect honest and hardworking Floridians by getting these fraudsters off our streets and out of our wallets.”

An investigation conducted by the Department of Financial Services’ Division of Insurance Fraud determined that GPDC was operating under the guise of a legitimate diagnostics center. Diagnostic test results obtained at GPDC were the lifeblood of fraud committed by a number of PIP clinics in Jacksonville. Pompey’s prior employment with one of the known fraudulent Jacksonville clinics, One Touch Therapy Corporation, opened connections to the network participating in similar schemes to defraud several insurance companies.

In order for participants to appear to suffer from legitimate injuries warranting massage therapy or chiropractic care, they oftentimes require a corresponding radiological diagnosis. Additionally, tests performed at GDPC allowed for Pompey and others to cash into the $10,000 available under a participant’s PIP coverage. Recruiters connected to the fraudulent clinics would coach participants on how to effectively fake ailments without drawing attention from the insurance company.

Following a search warrant, it was discovered that between October 2011 and December 2012, GPDC filed for 514 patients, and during this time Pompey was listed at the designated chiropractor on more than 300 of these files.

Pompey was arrested in Fort Myers on a Duval County warrant and charged with one count of a first degree scheme to defraud and six counts of false and fraudulent insurance claims. Bond was set at $210,021.

Anyone with information of suspected insurance fraud is asked to call 1-800-378-0445. Citizens who provide tips can remain anonymous. The Department of Financial Services to date has awarded almost $342,000 to more than 50 citizens as part of its Anti-Fraud Reward Program. The program rewards individuals up to $25,000 for information that directly leads to an arrest and conviction in an insurance fraud scheme.

Winners of Florida’s Financial History Challenge Announced

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater on Friday announced the regional winners for Florida’s Financial History Challenge held in honor of Viva Florida 500, a commemoration of the state’s 500-year history. The statewide contest was offered as part of the CFO’s ‘Your Money Matters’ initiative and presented an opportunity for students of all ages to learn about the history of Florida’s economy and how the state’s unique past contributes to today’s success.Florida's Financial History Challenge

“Congratulations to all of the students who participated in Florida’s Financial History Challenge, and thank you to all of the teachers, parents and mentors who encouraged them to learn about Florida history,” said CFO Atwater. “When we learn from our past, it prepares us for success in the future, which is especially important for these young people who will someday be our state’s leaders.”

Students were divided into four age groups and assigned a specified project. A coloring contest was held for Kindergarten through 2nd graders. Their art is currently on display at the Florida Capitol. A drawing contest was held for students in grades 3 to 5. An essay contest was held for students in grades 6 to 8 and a video contest was held for high school students.

The contest divided the state into three regions: North, Central and South. Participants included students from public, private and home schools who shared their creative knowledge about a historical visionary or a significant place or important event in Florida’s history that helped shape our state.

The Department of Financial Services partnered with The Florida Humanities Council, Florida League of Cities, Florida Master Money Mentors, Florida Retired Educators Association and Step Up for Students for the contest. Several of these organizations contributed money for cash prizes and judged the contest entries. More than $2,000 was awarded to first-, second-, and third-place winners.

Contest winners included:

North Region

Drawing Contest

1st Place - Miel R. - Ponte Vedra - 5th Grade
2nd Place - Ellie M. - Ponte Vedra - 4th Grade
3rd Place - Ashley N. - Jacksonville - 5th Grade

Essay Contest

1st Place - Eve Glenn - Niceville

Video Contest

1st Place - Alyssa L., Demetrius J., Chauncey R. - Tallahassee - 12th Grade
2nd Place - Kelsey J., Garrett M., Jay R., Andrew H. - Tallahassee - 12th Grade
3rd Place - Austin B., Connor J., Cooper P. - Tallahassee - 12th Grade

Central Region

Drawing Contest

1st Place - Samantha H. - Orlando - 4th Grade
2nd Place - Anastasia G. - 4th Grade
3rd Place - Noor B. - Orlando - 4th Grade

Essay Contest

1st Place - Nykea R. - Daytona Beach - 8th Grade
2nd Place - Cassidy L. - Palmetto - 8th Grade
3rd Place - Cierra W. - Ocala - 8th Grade

Video Contest

1st Place - Janilice R. - Polk County - 11th Grade

South Region

Drawing Contest

1st Place - Abigail B. - 5th Grade
2nd Place - Melanie T. - Hialeah - 3rd Grade
3rd Place - Juwan S. - Ft. Lauderdale - 4th Grade

Essay Contest

1st Place - Esther B. - 7th Grade
2nd Place - Lexie B. - Miami - 8th Grade
3rd Place - Vanessa C. - Miami - 8th Grade

Video Contest

1st Place - Marissa F., Michelle S., Victoria P., Sarah A. - Miami - 10th Grade
2nd Place - Allison M. - Miami - 9th Grade

To learn more about the Florida’s Financial History Challenge winners around the state and to view winning entries, visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com/YMM or call the Division of Consumer Services’ helpline at 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (693-5236).

Florida Economic Briefs

Florida unemployment rate drops to 6.4% in November
Florida’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 6.4 percent in November 2013, down 0.3 percentage point over the month, and down 1.6 percentage points from 8.0 percent a year ago. The state’s November rate was the lowest since July 2008 when it also was 6.4 percent. There were 599,000 jobless Floridians out of a labor force of 9,395,000. The U.S. unemployment rate was 7.0 percent in November. Florida’s unemployment rate was 0.6 percentage point lower than the U.S. rate and was below the national rate for the ninth consecutive month.

Source: Florida Department of Economic Opportunity

Well Fargo: Florida Moves Back to the Head of the Pack
According to the latest economic outlook by Wells Fargo, Florida’s economy will continue to gain considerable momentum in the coming year, with Florida’s economic growth predicted to not only be stronger in 2014, but will be more heavily weighted toward high-paying sectors, such as construction, manufacturing, innovation, and professional services. According to the report, “Florida’s economy is now less dependent on in-migration and more focused on capitalizing on its inherent strengths built up over the past couple of decades in tourism, international trade, healthcare, and the biosciences. […] We are more optimistic about Florida’s prospects today than at any other time since the recession ended.”

Source: Wells Fargo Economics Group

Personal income continues to grow in Florida
Floridians’ personal income continued to grow robustly, recording a top ten growth rate among the states in the third quarter. Only five states recorded higher personal income growth than Florida.

Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis

Florida's Bottom Line on Innovative Florida - Aerospace and AviationInside the latest issue of Florida's Bottom Line, you’ll find expert commentary on Florida’s efforts to create and lead the next generation of innovation in the aerospace and aviation industry. It will be the continued commitment and creativity of Floridians who will make our state a global leader for innovation and economic prosperity in the 21st century. Florida's Bottom Line should help equip you with the resources to be a part of this mission.