Volume 8 Number 1 January 7, 2011
This Tuesday, as I took the oath of office, I was humbled by the incredible support and confidence of my family, friends and the citizens of Florida. I am honored that you have entrusted me with this great responsibility, and I will work hard every day to fulfill the duties of this office and serve you.
Following the inauguration, we opened the doors of our Capitol offices to visitors. Our Open House was an opportunity for friends, family and citizens to learn more about the many responsibilities of the Chief Financial Officer. More than 150 visitors received a “passport” and guided tour highlighting key areas in the Department of Financial Services—Cabinet, State Fire Marshal, Consumer Services, Unclaimed Property, Treasury and Insurance Fraud—these areas will be my priorities over the next four years. I was energized by the support and enthusiasm of our visitors.
I hope you enjoy looking at some of the pictures and the interactive displays from Tuesday’s inauguration and Open House. I am excited to be your CFO, and I will work hard to keep your hard-earned dollars in your pocket where they belong by fighting fraud, cutting spending, eliminating government waste, and helping make government a champion of the entrepreneurial spirit.
State of Florida
Chief Financial Officer Atwater also serves as Florida’s Fire Marshal and leads the division in their mission to reduce the loss of life and property to fire and other disasters through leadership, training, prevention, education, and fire and arson investigation. Following the inauguration, the Director of the Division of State Fire Marshal, Julius Halas, presented CFO Atwater with his official State Fire Marshal badge. The ceremony took place in front of the Fallen Firefighters Memorial located on the plaza level of the Capitol.
“As Director Halas presented me with the badge, I was overcome with a sense of respect for what the fine men and women of the division do for Floridians each day. I will officially serve as the state’s Fire Marshal, but it is the work of these dedicated law enforcement officers who keep us safe by investigating arson and bringing criminals to justice. I am honored and humbled to be their leader,” said CFO Atwater.
Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater announced the appointment of his management team, including Robert “Budd” Kneip who will serve as Chief of Staff, PK Jameson as General Counsel, and three deputies who will oversee key areas of the Department of Financial Services. Atwater also announced appointments to his Legislative Affairs and Communications offices.
“In assembling this team, I sought individuals who have been successful entrepreneurs outside of state government as well as those who are experienced government innovators,” said CFO Atwater. “This team shares my commitment and vision to increasing transparency and accountability to taxpayers, to fighting fraud and eliminating government waste, and to fostering economic growth and prosperity. I am honored these accomplished individuals are joining me in bringing open and accountable stewardship to the CFO’s office.”
CFO Atwater also announced that he is aggressively recruiting experienced and results-oriented leaders to oversee two of his priority areas in the agency. One deputy will oversee divisions focused on combating insurance, Medicaid and public assistance fraud and investigating arson. The other will be charged with increasing vigilance, transparency and accountability of state funds and contracts, in the divisions of Accounting and Auditing, Treasury and Information Systems.
The Chief of Staff and new management team are charged with ensuring that CFO Atwater’s goals for the Department of Financial Services are carried out through 16 different divisions and offices in the agency. New appointments include:
Robert Kneip, Chief of Staff - Dr. Kneip began his career with the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission before joining The Wackenhut Corporation in 1982. In 1996, Dr. Kneip founded Oasis Outsourcing, a business process outsourcing company, and grew the company to more than $1 billion in revenues. He has received numerous awards for his business and civic contributions, including the Excalibur Award as the Palm Beach County Business Leader of the year in 2004 by the South Florida Sun Sentinel, the Chairman’s Award for Excellence in 2004 for civic contributions by the North Palm Beach County Chamber of Commerce, and the Legends of South Florida award in 2005 given by South Florida CEO.
PK Jameson, General Counsel - Ms. Jameson earned her Juris Doctorate degree from Florida State University in 1989. She practiced law in the private sector in insurance, workers’ compensation, contracts and social security, before beginning her career in public service. Ms. Jameson has worked as a Senior Advisor in the Senate, and served in the House of Representatives as Staff Director of the Committees on Judiciary, Real Property and Probate, Procedural and Redistricting Council, and Chief of Staff. She also worked in the Governor’s Office of Policy and Budget and served as the General Counsel and Director of Legislative Affairs for the Agency for Persons with Disabilities.
Tami Torres - Ms. Torres began her career working in communications, marketing and legislative advocacy for two statewide trade associations. After seven years in the private sector, she joined the Florida Senate, working for three years in communications, media relations and policy development. In 2001, Ms. Torres was recruited to manage communications for Florida’s Insurance Commissioner and subsequently the Chief Financial Officer. At the Department of Financial Services, she has served as the Executive Director of the My Safe Florida Home program and, most recently, as the Director of the Division of Consumer Services. Ms. Torres will oversee the Offices of Cabinet, Communications and Legislative Affairs.
Paul Whitfield - Mr. Whitfield began his tenure in the legislative branch in the House of Representatives, where he served as Staff Director for economic development and trade concerns. In 2003, he was recruited by then-Governor Jeb Bush to serve as Policy Coordinator in the Office of Policy and Budget. Mr. Whitfield returned to the legislative branch to work for then-Senate President Atwater as a Policy Advisor. In this advisory role, his key accomplishments included assisting in the development and passage of statewide passenger rail legislation, property insurance reforms and the execution of the Seminole Gaming Compact. Mr. Whitfield will oversee the Budget Office and the divisions of Agent and Agency Services, Funeral and Cemetery Services, Rehabilitation and Liquidation, and Workers Compensation.
Karen Chandler - Ms. Chandler began her career in the Office of the Governor. She continued serving in the executive branch at the Departments of Insurance and Education, focusing on communications. Ms. Chandler then served as Communications Director for three consecutive Senate Presidents. In 2003, she was appointed Deputy Chief Financial Officer and oversaw several divisions within the Department of Financial Services. Ms. Chandler owned and operated a small retail business in Tallahassee for nine years while working full-time in state government. Ms. Chandler will oversee the Scheduling and Appointments Office and the divisions of Administration, Consumer Services and Risk Management.
Additional appointments to the CFO’s office include:
Robert Tornillo, Director of Cabinet Affairs - Mr. Tornillo has more than 25 years experience working in the executive branch of Florida government. Since 1988, he has served as an advisor to four statewide elected cabinet officers. Mr. Tornillo has a degree in criminology from Florida State University and served three years with the Florida Marine Patrol as a crime analyst.
Ashley Mayer, Director of Legislative Affairs – Ms. Mayer has practiced law in the private sector in the areas of administrative law, appellate, insurance regulatory law, and legislative affairs, representing the Safety Net Hospital Alliance, Shands Health Care, the Florida Justice Reform Institute, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, and various property and casualty insurance carriers. She has worked as a Florida Bar Public Service Fellow and in the Florida Senate Committee on Education.
Alexis Lambert, Press Secretary, Office of Communications - Ms. Lambert, a Tallahassee native, began her public sector career in Governor Bush's Office of External Affairs. Since receiving her degree in communications, she has served as Press Secretary for the Department of Community Affairs, Agency for Workforce Innovation and, for the last four years, with the Department of Business and Professional Regulation.
Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater on Thursday announced the arrest of mortgage fraud scammer Guillermo Fraginals Parra, 37, of Hialeah, on charges of first degree grand theft. Parra, the 18th individual arrested in this scam, was a real estate appraiser at the time the crimes occurred and was being paid on the side to inflate the value of various condominiums in the Brickell Bay Condo Community.
“This kind of fraud robs hardworking Floridians and our state of the dollars we need to continue rebuilding our economy and our communities. I am committed to exposing these crimes and those who perpetuate them,” said CFO Jeff Atwater. “Yesterday’s arrest exemplifies the hard work of our fraud detectives who remained dedicated to investigating this case. I am committed to coordinating with our state and federal counterparts to uncover these scams much more quickly.”
The main facilitator of this scheme was Miami realtor Pedro Rodriguez, who fled the country after learning about the warrant for his arrest and was extradited on a Federal Fugitive warrant from Costa Rica in 2008. Costa Rican authorities captured Rodriguez and held him in jail from July to December, 2008, until his was extradited to Miami-Dade County in December, 2008.
The investigation by the Department of Financial Services’ Division of Insurance Fraud began when a tip was received from a Miami real estate law firm. The firm discovered one of their employees, closing agent Rita Garrett, was facilitating the stealing of funds from escrow trust accounts through a scam using double settlement statements. The double settlement statements scam used two HUD-1 forms. The bank received the fraudulent HUD settlement statement that included the inflated appraisal while the seller would receive the legitimate HUD settlement statement based on market value. This transaction resulted in the buyer leaving the mortgage closing with hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Pedro Rodriguez approached the co-conspirators, who were mainly comprised of “straw” buyers, or a person who agreed to knowingly lie about their net worth in order to qualify for a mortgage loan. He also approached Parra, convincing him to inflate property appraisals. Through the real estate appraiser (Parra), a real estate closer (Garrett) and multiple “straw” buyers, the 18 individuals involved in the scam received over $11.5 million in various amounts.
Co-defendants who have already been arrested include:
The individuals in this scam who have already been convicted are facing court ordered restitution.
If you or someone you know has been a victim of fraud, call toll-free 1-800-378-0445 or visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com and click on “Report Fraud.”
You may be just a mouse click or phone call away from finding out if the state is holding some of your lost treasure. Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater’s Department of Financial Services holds unclaimed property accounts valued at more than $1 billion, mostly from dormant accounts in financial institutions, insurance and utility companies, securities and trust holdings.
Just this week, a couple from South Florida, who joined the CFO at his Open House following inauguration, learned they have $6,000 in unclaimed property. During the Open House, employees with our Bureau of Unclaimed Property identified a total of $3,436.87 in claims for visitors. One visitor from Pensacola filed a claim for more than $1,400.
Now that you know what unclaimed property is let’s play some trivia!
1. What is the most common type of unclaimed property?
a. Payroll Checks
b. Insurance Premium Refunds
c. Stock Dividends
d. Utility Deposits/Refunds
2. How many new accounts were reported to the Bureau last year?
3. What is the largest amount of unclaimed property ever claimed by one person?
a. $ 58,000
b. $ 158,000
c. $ 966,000
d. $ 1.3 million
4. What is the most expensive safe deposit box item ever sold at an Unclaimed Property Auction?
a. a 52 ounce gold “finger“ bar, 22K Gold
b. an 18K Rolex Daytona watch
c. a 13 carat diamond ring
d. a 6.5 carat emerald-cut diamond ring
5. How many unclaimed accounts are currently on the Unclaimed Property database/list?
a. approximately 1,000,000
b. approximately 10,000,000
c. approximately 17,000,000
d. approximately 20,000,000
6. Approximately how much unclaimed property is returned to citizens each day?
a. $ 135,000
b. $ 425,000
c. $ 500,000
d. $ 750,000
7. How much money do you have in the Unclaimed Property database?
a. I don’t know
b. I didn’t know about the Unclaimed Property database
c. You have to look to find out!
(Trivia Answers: 1. c, 2. d, 3. d, 4. d, 5. b, 6. d, 7. c)
To search for unclaimed property, please visit, FLTreasureHunt.org, includes a searchable, interactive database of unclaimed property accounts. The database is available, free of charge, 24 hours a day, and allows claimants to print, from their own computers, claim forms (with instructions) for accounts they believe they are entitled to claim.
Our toll-free telephone number is 1- 88-VALUABLE (1- 888-258-2253), and is available each workday for citizens within Florida. Callers outside Florida can reach the Bureau by calling (850) 413-5555.
As an elected member of the Florida Cabinet, the Chief Financial Officer has both constitutional and statutory responsibilities to serve as the agency head with rulemaking authority over five state agencies and ten offices, commissions, and boards.
The Florida Cabinet meets bi-weekly to set executive policies and consider action items on a host of issues governing state pension fund management, issuance of state bonds, government administration, natural resource conservation, land use regulation, state law enforcement, and executive clemency.
The Governor and Cabinet serve as agency head or appellate body for the following state agencies, offices, commissions, and boards:
During Tuesday’s Open House, CFO Atwater asked visitors how they would have voted on past Cabinet decisions. The results are:
1. Would you support increasing the age for requiring child restraint devices in vehicles from birth through 5 years to birth through 7 years?
Yes - 55%, No - 45%
2. Would you authorize the sale of $250 million of bonds to fund the construction of new public schools?
Yes - 63%, No - 37%
3. Would you grant a posthumous pardon to Jim Morrison?
Yes - 27%, No - 73%
If you’re trying to get ahead financially, an emergency fund should be your first step. The fund should be at least $1,000 and should be used only for true emergency situations such as emergency car or home repairs. Having cash in an emergency fund lets you pay for unexpected bills immediately rather than charging them to a credit card, allowing you to avoid accruing interest and fees above and beyond the original amount that you charged which only creates more hurdles to getting ahead financially.
Healthy finances come when you take control of your money and make deliberate decisions in your budgeting and spending. Let 2011 be the year you take control of your finances; begin by starting your emergency fund today. Find more information on how to be financially healthy and fit in the New Year at CFO Atwater’s Family Fiscal Fitness web page at www.MyFloridaCFO.com.
If you meet the low to moderate-income guidelines outlined by the IRS for working individuals or families, you may be eligible for Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). The EITC is an income tax credit that could reduce the tax amount that you owe and in some cases may also provide you with a refund. You could receive up to $5,666, depending on your income and the number of qualifying children. You may find that you qualified in past years for EITC but did not receive it; if so, you can go back up to three years and amend your tax return to receive the EITC.
To find out if you qualify for the EITC, visit the IRS website.
On January 4, the State Fire Marshal’s Bureau of Fire & Arson Investigations Jacksonville Field Office arrested Michelle Marie Stokes, 40, of Duval County, on charges of arson to a dwelling and arson resulting in injury. Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department first arrived on scene and found a 75-year-old man with second degree burns to his upper body.
While the paramedics were treating him, he told them his girlfriend, Stokes, had started the fire that caused the burns to his body. Stokes fled the scene and BFAI was called to assist in the investigation. After a thorough review of the residence, talking to the victim, and interviewing acquaintances of Stokes, State Fire Marshal detectives determined Stokes intentionally set the house on fire, which ultimately burned 11 percent of the victim’s body.
Stokes was located by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and returned to the scene where she was arrested on felony chargers and booked into the Duval County Jail.
On January 6, the State Fire Marshal’s Bureau of Fire & Arson Investigations Ft. Myers Field Office responded to a call for assistance from the Cape Coral Fire Department. The fire department responded to a 911 call regarding a fire at a single-family dwelling located in Cape Coral.
The house was occupied by George Neal, 24, and his mother. Neal’s mother woke up to the smell of smoke and found her son in a bathroom with contents of a waste basket on fire, causing damage to areas in the bathroom. Neal’s mother called 911 and was able to extinguish the fire. When the BFAI detectives arrived at the scene, it was determined that the fire had been intentionally set.
Neal, who suffered minor smoke injuries, was taken to the Lee Memorial Hospital for treatment. During further investigation, the BFAI detectives determined Neal intentionally set the fire and was arrested for first degree arson. Upon treatment at the hospital, Neal was arrested and transported to the Lee County Jail. If convicted, Neal could face up to 30 years in prison.