Volume 3 Number 23
June 5, 2006

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Every one of us hopes for a comfortable and peaceful retirement. We work hard, save our money, and look admiringly upon those who have “made it.” That’s why, in Florida, we do not tolerate anyone taking advantage of our senior citizens.

In the past week, we have announced tough actions against four individuals who scammed dozens of seniors. Based on investigations by our department, two Sarasota men were sentenced to lengthy prison terms for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in a Ponzi scheme and, in another case, we are taking action against two men for selling worthless home health care plans.

The department’s Senior Resource Center, at www.flseniors.net, is specifically designed to help seniors sort out the flood of information and financial offers presented to them. For those who may not have access to a computer, please call our toll-free hotline at 1-800-342-2762 for free brochures.

Key points for all of us to keep in mind are to never be rushed into making a decision – a deal that is good today should still be good tomorrow – and take the time to read, ask questions and talk about any offer with your family or someone you trust.

The department is committed to protecting you and your nest egg, and making sure your golden years are just that – golden.


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Gallagher successfully protects the companies’ policyholders this hurricane season

TALLAHASSEE– A judge today approved putting three financially-troubled insurance companies under the state’s control, a move Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher said will protect more than 320,000 Floridians this hurricane season. The insurance companies – Atlantic Preferred, Southern Family and Florida Preferred – are subsidiaries of the Tampa-based Poe Financial Group.

“My priority is to ensure policyholders have continuous coverage this hurricane season, and we’ve achieved that,” Gallagher said. “Now our focus is resolving outstanding hurricane claims.”

Leon County Circuit Court Judge Janet Ferris signed liquidation orders for all three insurers and appointed the Department of Financial Services as receiver. As receiver, the department takes control of the companies’ operations and liquidates the companies’ assets to pay outstanding claims.




Tom Gallagher, Florida’s chief financial officer, announced that he has ordered two Sarasota agents to answer charges that they made “false and worthless promises” to dozens of elderly Floridians who thought they were buying a home health care services plan but paid nearly $200,000 for access to providers, yet never received any services.

James W. Crain, Jr., 40, director and president of Independent Living Home Care Membership Association, was ordered to immediately stop selling or collecting premiums for the home health care plan and, along with Michael D. Carll, 48, has 21 days to respond to an administrative complaint alleging that they defrauded elderly customers. The charges follow an investigation by the Department of Financial Services, Division of Agent and Agency Services’ Bureau of Investigation. If the charges are upheld, Crain and Carll face revocation of their insurance agent licenses. Gallagher said he will also seek restitution.

“It is unconscionable that anyone would take advantage of a senior citizen looking for help to enjoy their golden years and have peace of mind,” said Gallagher, who oversees the department and in the past three years has taken action against more than 110 agents for elder fraud. “We will continue to bring the full force of the law against unscrupulous agents and aggressively educate our seniors against these scams.” CONTINUED



Goal is to Help Hispanic Residents Prepare for Hurricane Season and More

TALLAHASSEE – Tom Gallagher, Florida’s chief financial officer, today announced the launch of a Spanish-language version of the Department of Financial Services’ (DFS) consumer website to better serve Florida’s growing Hispanic population.

“Nearly three million Hispanics call Florida home and need access to information that impacts their financial well-being and future,” Gallagher said. “Following the 2004 and 2005 hurricanes, we had the opportunity to help thousands of Spanish-speaking residents, and many asked to get more information on insurance and financial issues in Spanish. My hope is that launching this new technology before the start of the hurricane season will ensure a greater number of Floridians are better protected and prepared if a disaster strikes.”

Gallagher said that his department is among the first statewide government agencies in Florida to dynamically and comprehensively launch its site in Spanish. The Spanish site can be accessed by clicking on the “En Español” tab on the DFS homepage at www.MyFloridaCFO.com. 


Tom Gallagher, Florida’s chief financial officer, announced that two former south Florida agents have been sentenced to 25 years in prison for their roles in a Ponzi scheme that bilked more than 30 investors out of $1.2 million.

Thomas A. Masciarelli, 49, and Steven Petrarca, 55, were convicted of aggravated white collar crime and fraudulent investment transactions following an investigation by the Department of Financial Services, Division of Insurance Fraud, and the Office of Financial Regulation.

“What these individuals did was egregious, and their sentences reflect that,” said Gallagher, who oversees the department. “We will not put up with Florida’s investors - particularly our vulnerable elderly investors - being preyed upon.”

The department’s Division of Agent and Agency Services first began investigating Masciarelli and Petrarca for suspected failure to return unearned commissions, but the investigation soon led to suspicions that the two were engaged in selling unregistered securities and the Division of Insurance Fraud was brought in to assist. The probe revealed the two convinced clients to liquidate annuity investments and invest in a bogus company that would buy and sell distressed real estate, and promised returns of up to nine percent. No real estate was purchased, and investors received phony statements. CONTINUED



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Tom Gallagher, Florida’s chief financial officer, announced that a New York man has been sentenced to 18 months in federal prison and ordered to pay more than $630,000 in restitution after he pleaded guilty to an elaborate scheme to steal money from Florida’s Bureau of Unclaimed Property. More than $500,000 of the stolen money was tracked to a bank in Ramallah, Palestine.

Michael Bronstein, 37, pleaded guilty to mail fraud and was sentenced Thursday by North Florida Federal District Court Judge Robert L. Hinkle. The charges were the result of a joint investigation by the Florida Department of Financial Services, Office of Fiscal Integrity, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The North Florida U.S. Attorney’s Office prosecuted the charges.

“I commend the investigators for unraveling this complex scheme and bringing this individual to justice,” said Gallagher, who oversees the department. He noted that during the three-year investigation, the Office of Fiscal Integrity issued 30 subpoenas and tracked more than 600,000 telephone calls. CONTINUED




Tom Gallagher, Florida’s chief financial officer, announced the revocation of the license of a Lake County title insurance agency, 1st Land Title Services, and the license of an agent who misappropriated funds from the agency’s escrow accounts.

Gallagher’s order revoked the title insurance license of Portia Lynne Rodriguez, 57, of Mt. Dora, and permanently banned her from transacting insurance in Florida. Rodriguez had been a licensed title insurance agent in Florida since 1993 and was president of 1st Land Title Services, which had offices in Tavares, Leesburg, Summerfield and Mt. Dora.

“This department is determined to ensure that no one takes advantage of our citizens,” Gallagher said. “Having an agent’s license is an opportunity to serve, not an opportunity to steal.”

The actions against Rodriguez’ license followed a department investigation that uncovered more than $613,000 missing from an escrow account. The investigation began after reports of checks being returned to the agency for insufficient funds. Affected customers were reimbursed by the title insurance companies.