- Updating you on what's going on
The Florida Department of Financial Services, Division of Insurance Fraud (DIF), which operates under the direction of Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, announced the recent conviction and sentencing of former Tampa area chiropractic assistant Anthony Cirruzzo. Earlier this year, Cirruzzo was arrested and faced trial on patient brokering charges related to the operation of West Coast Medical Management, a Tampa medical clinic he once owned. He was convicted, sentenced to serve six months in the Hillsborough County Jail and ordered to pay over $5,000 in fines.
Investigators first began looking into Cirruzzo after receiving information from multiple insurance carriers that alerted the Department that West Coast Medical Management was involved in alleged insurance fraud and patient brokering activity. Patient brokering involves the recruitment and referral of individuals to seek medical treatment in exchange for cash or other reimbursement. Based on this information, DIF conducted a three-month undercover operation during which Cirruzzo paid an undercover investigator to attend the clinic.
The official start of the 2016 Hurricane Season was June 1. Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater reminds Floridians that being prepared means more than stocking up on batteries and bottled water. In addition to securing these important items, CFO Atwater stresses that it is equally as important for Floridians to prepare their insurance and emergency-related financial documents before the arrival of the upcoming storm season. Although more than a decade has passed since Florida faced a major storm, weather experts anticipate that the 2016 season will be active and Floridians are encouraged to plan accordingly.
“I encourage all Floridians to verify their financial and insurance policy information as part of their family’s overall disaster-readiness plans,” said CFO Jeff Atwater. “It takes just a few minutes to print and fill out our emergency preparedness toolkit, and having copies of insurance policies and a photographic inventory of a family’s belongings can make a world of difference if you need to quickly file a claim.”
Floridians should prepare an insurance and finance packet of information that can easily be taken if evacuation becomes necessary. The packet should include detailed account information associated with property and health insurance policies as well as bank account information and contact numbers for all financial institutions and insurance companies. Having these documents in place and readily available makes the potential claims-filing process much easier.
The Florida Department of Financial Services’ (DFS) Division of Insurance Fraud (DIF) announced eight arrests following a multi-agency undercover workers’ compensation sting in Polk County. These eight individuals advertised their ability to perform wide-ranging plumbing and electrical work without proper licenses or training, and without having workers’ compensation coverage to protect their employees in the event of an accident or injury.
During the three-day operation, DIF detectives, accompanied by logistical and tactical support from multiple agencies, established an undercover sting in an effort to stop this illegal practice. Detectives responded to public advertisements created by the defendants, requesting that they perform services at a specified location in Lakeland.
“Operations like this pull back the curtain on fraud in Florida, showing that if an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” said CFO Jeff Atwater. “Always ask questions, require all offers in writing and verify the credentials of every individual who may provide goods or services before any work begins.”
Those who were arrested include:
• Justin Cortes
• Greatlen Bozeman
• Herbert Vanegas
• Henricus Van Der Linden
• Stuart Rhodes
• Juan Carlos Diaz
• Raymond Figueroa-Garcia
• Raymond Perdue
When individuals knowingly neglect the law, they create a liability risk for property owners by performing sub-par work and by potentially leaving property owners responsible to cover medical costs if an uncovered worker is hurt on their property.
The Florida Department of Financial Services’ Division of State Fire Marshal announced the recent arrest of 51-year-old Thomas L Bennett Jr. on charges of first-degree arson and multiple counts of animal cruelty following a Gulfport fire that occurred June 3, 2016, in Pinellas County. A fire scene investigation revealed that Bennett allegedly intentionally set a Gulfport home on fire following a domestic dispute between himself and another resident of the Gulfport home.
In the early afternoon hours of June 3, the Gulfport Police Department and Gulfport Fire Department requested the assistance of the State Fire Marshal to determine the cause and origin of a fire that occurred at 6124 10th Ave. S. Gulfport in Pinellas County.
The State Fire Marshal’s investigation revealed that following a dispute with a female resident of the home, Bennett allegedly doused multiple areas in the home’s garage with gasoline and lighter fluid and then ignited the saturated areas causing the garage to go up in flames. Bennett then continued into the living room area of the home where he attempted to ignite the home’s carpet and multiple pieces of furniture on fire using a propane blow torch.
Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, joined by Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier and Citizens Property Insurance Corporation President and CEO Barry Gilway, kicked off the start of the 2016 Atlantic Hurricane Season with a media event hosted at Florida International University’s “Wall of Wind.” Following a panel discussion with reporters that outlined the ways in which Florida leaders have prepared for the next big storm and encourage Floridians to personally prepare, FIU scientists performed an interactive high-speed wind demonstration. The Wall of Wind is Florida’s largest and most powerful hurricane research facility, capable of simulating a Category 5 hurricane, the largest on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.
CFO Atwater stressed that Floridians should prepare an emergency financial preparation toolkit as part of their family’s hurricane preparedness plans. This financial toolkit should include copies of insurance policy numbers, agent and adjuster contact information, as well as a property inventory and financial account details. Damage to one’s home or property following a hurricane can be stressful, but the insurance claims process is easier when preparatory steps are taken ahead of time. The Department of Financial Services, led by CFO Atwater, has provided a no-cost, downloadable toolkit that is available to all consumers.
“For ten years, Florida has remained storm free but our lucky streak will one day end, and we must all take personal precautions now in anticipation that 2016 may be the year that a storm hits our shores,” said CFO Atwater. “By printing and preparing insurance and financial information now, post-storm recovery and repair claims become easier to complete.”
Newly-appointed Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier stressed the readiness of Florida’s property insurance market, and highlighted the results of the financial “stress test” performed on Florida-based property insurance companies each year. These tests are meant to model the pathway, destructive power and claims-paying costs of previous hurricanes to anticipate how well companies’ finances would fare following high volumes of post-storm claims. In 2015, each company that was tested passed this rigorous test.
“Florida’s property insurance market is more stable and competitive than it has been in more than a decade,” said Commissioner Altmaier. “The Office of Insurance Regulation continually monitors insurance companies throughout the year to assess their financial position, review regulatory filings and catastrophe reinsurance programs. These efforts help to protect Florida’s consumers in the event of a disaster.”
Citizens Property Insurance Corporation stressed its own hurricane readiness as one of the state’s largest property insurance companies, and reminded Floridians of the importance of immediately notifying the appropriate insurance company when damage occurs.
“Not only are we in the best financial shape ever, Citizens has never been better prepared to respond to a storm. We have more than 3,500 adjusters at our disposal and can set up multiple emergency claims centers if needed to service our policyholders. The bottom line is Citizens is ready. Call us first,” said Citizens President Gilway.
The Florida Office of Financial Regulation (OFR) recognized World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, June 15, 2016. This global initiative is an effort to unite communities to raise awareness about elder abuse.
“The Florida Office of Financial Regulation is committed to working with our partners to educate Floridians about elder abuse, including elder financial exploitation and financial fraud targeting Florida’s elders,” said Commissioner Drew J. Breakspear. “Talking with your elder loved ones about making fully-informed financial decisions, verifying a license before doing financial business, and knowing what financial fraud red flags look like, can help protect them from becoming a victim.”
Before committing to a financial decision, fully research the financial product and the company and watch for red flags of potential fraud.
• Verify the business or individual is properly licensed with the OFR online or by calling (850) 487-9687.
• Be wary of unsolicited salespersons or offers.
• Speak with multiple professionals before making a decision.
• If you feel pressured or rushed to provide information, just walk away.
• Ask for written information about the financial product and read everything carefully and completely.
• Beware of anyone who claims your investment is “guaranteed” or has “little to no risk.”
• Do not sign blank documents or agreements you haven’t fully read.
The Office of Insurance Regulation received a workers’ compensation rate filing today by the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI). This rate filing was submitted to address the projected rate impacts of two recent legal changes. The first is the April 28th Florida Supreme Court decision in the case of Castellanos v. Next Door Company (Castellanos), which found the mandatory attorney fee schedule in Section 440.34, Florida Statutes, unconstitutional as a violation of due process under both the Florida and United States Constitutions. The second is related to updates within the Florida Workers’ Compensation Health Care Provider Reimbursement Manual (HCPR Manual) per Senate Bill 1402.
The total impact is a combined rate increase of 17.1% equaling $623 million. NCCI is proposing a 15% statewide average rate increase to cover the first year impact to workers’ compensation costs in Florida due to the Castellanos decision and a 1.8% increase related to the adoption of the 2015 Edition of the HCPR Manual, which becomes effective July 1, 2016. NCCI is also proposing an effective date of August 1, 2016 for new and renewal workers’ compensation policies and that the 17.1% rate increase apply to all workers’ compensation policies in effect as of August 1, 2016 on a pro-rata basis for the remainder of each policy’s term.
We highly recommend that licensees routinely check their MyProfile accounts for messages from the Department. We send an email notification when a message has been sent to remind you to check your MyProfile account but on rare occasions you may not receive that email. For that reason, we suggest you add our domains dfs.state.fl.us and MyFloridaCFO.com to your email software's Trusted or Safe Senders List to ensure you are able to receive email notifications from us. Licensees who have a valid email address on file with the Department, as required by law, are sent important email notifications when something that affects their application, license, continuing education, or appointment(s) occurs. Additionally, we will keep you informed with warnings regarding new schemes and scams being marketed to licensees. You can update your contact information through your MyProfile account. We want to keep you informed in a timely manner of pertinent information. You are still required to abide by the Florida Insurance Code regardless of whether you read the information we provide or attempt to provide.