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My Florida C F O

Dear Fellow Floridians:

This week, I joined Miami-Dade County State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle to announce the arrests of 14 individuals involved in a multi-million dollar insurance scam. The fraudsters were discovered to be defrauding insurance companies by staging fire and water damage claims in Miami-Dade County, Lehigh Acres and Naples. The losses exceeded $7.8 million after 13 homes were set on fire and five more experienced extensive water damage. CFO Atwater at the SFM press conference

The 13 cases of arson were staged to resemble electrical, kitchen and vehicle-related fires occurring within a home or garage while the cases involving water damage blamed flooding on water supply lines or clogged sewer lines. I am extremely proud of the work of our State Fire Marshal’s Office, and I am thankful for the support of the Miami-Dade Police Department’s Arson Unit and Miami-Dade County State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle for uncovering this fraud and helping us bring these individuals to justice. This operation, called "Operation Flames and Floods," was a tremendous victory in the fight against fraud.

These devious acts of fraud and others like it hurt all Floridians by driving up the cost of insurance, which takes money out of the pockets of hard-working, law-abiding Floridians. During my tenure as your CFO, I am proud to say that arrests for "arson for profit" have increased 267 percent. Since 2010, more than 4,000 fraudsters have been arrested.

But there is more work to be done, and you have my commitment that I will continue to fight against these criminal acts of fraud that hurt all Floridians. 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 nearly $350,000 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.

Jeff Atwater
Jeff Atwater
Chief Financial Officer
State of Florida

News of Interest

Miami CBS 4: Arrests Made In Home Insurance Fraud Ring

Miami CBS 4: Operation Leaky Pipes Nets 12 Miami-Dade Homeowners

Tampa Bay Times: Florida dealmaking jumps 67 percent

Florida Trend: Economic report on job growth in Florida shows largest improvement since 2005

Florida Today: Realtors look for upbeat 2014 after encouraging '13

Orlando Sentinel: UCF named as one of nation's 'best value' schools

The Atlantic: Will a $10,000 College Degree Help You Get a Job?

Two Arrested for Personal Injury Protection (PIP) Insurance Fraud

CFO Jeff Atwater announced the arrests of Leonardo F. Marquez Garcia and Dayleann Marie Vallejo-Ruiz, of Miami and Orlando respectively, on charges of insurance fraud. An investigation by the Department of Financial Services’ Division of Insurance Fraud revealed that Garcia would do supposed "initial examinations" on crash victims and refer them to the Injury Rehabilitation Center for physical therapy treatments. Vallejo-Ruiz, the owner of the clinic and a licensed massage therapist, had patients sign blank treatment forms that were sent to Division of Insurance Fraud Badgethe insurance company requesting payment for services never provided.

"This kind of deceit and abuse hurts all Floridians in the form of higher premiums,” said CFO Atwater. “I am proud of my team for putting a stop to this fraud and for their continuing success keeping other fraudsters off our streets."

The investigation is ongoing and additional arrests are expected. The case is being prosecuted by the Orange County State Attorney’s Office, and each defendant faces up to 15-20 years in prison if convicted.

Ongoing Fraud Investigation Known as 'Operation Leaky Pipes' Yields 12 Arrests

CFO Jeff Atwater announced that the ongoing insurance fraud investigation known as ‘Operation Leaky Pipes’ has led to the arrests of 12 Miami residents. The investigation uncovered a scheme between a licensed public adjuster and a plumber to coach homeowners on how to file fraudulent insurance claims for pre-existing or non-existent water damage. The homeowners filed fraudulent claims in an attempt to claim money for home remodeling.

"These 12 individuals tried to cheat the system and now they have to face the consequences," said CFO Atwater. "Our team will continue to do everything in our power to fight the fraud and abuse that drives up the cost of insurance for all Floridians."Division of Insurance Fraud Badge

A tip and a subsequent investigation led by Florida Department of Financial Services’ Division of Insurance Fraud (DIF) detectives, in partnership with the National Insurance Crime Bureau, unraveled the scheme that the public adjuster and the plumber were operating. After their arrests, the two have provided sworn statements detailing all of the fraudulent claims filed with their assistance. DIF detectives obtained sworn confessions from all 12 homeowners.

Although the homeowners will be charged individually, the scheme in total resulted in a losses of more than $175,000 to two insurance companies. The cases are being prosecuted by Miami-Dade County State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle.

Serial Arsonist Arrested in Polk County

CFO and State Fire Marshal Jeff Atwater announced the arrest of David Glenn Giles of Lake Wales after video surveillance footage determined he set fire to a Gate Fuel service station in Lake Wales. Giles, who has several previous arson, attempted arson and criminal mischief charges on his record, was already on probation for a string of arson fires that occurred between 2008 and 2010. He is also known to have been involved in multiple fires dating back to 1994.

"Arson is an inexcusable act that State Fire Marshal badgeendangers lives, and it will not be tolerated," said CFO Jeff Atwater. "I’m proud of the combined effort of all of the investigators to bring this man to justice for his repeated offenses."

The Florida Division of State Fire Marshal’s Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations (BFAI) worked in cooperation with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office and the Department of Corrections’ Probation and Parole offices to arrest Giles. If convicted, Giles faces up to 30 years in prison.

To report arson, call 1-877-No-Arson (1-877-662-7766). A reward of up to $5,000 may be paid for a tip that leads directly to an arrest and conviction.

Florida Economic Briefs

U.S. GDP increases 3.2 percent in fourth quarter
U.S. real gross domestic product increased at an annual rate of 3.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2013, driven by increased consumer spending. In the third quarter, U.S. real GDP grew by 4.1 percent.

Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis

U.S. Small Business borrowing increases in December signaling stronger growth ahead
National small business lending increased strongly in December to its highest level in seven years, according to the Thomson Reuters/PayNet Small Business Lending Index, which jumped to 121.6 from 114.6 in November.

Source: Thomson Reuters/PayNet Small Business Lending Index

Florida's Bottom LineFlorida's Bottom Line

Lately, people across the country are more optimistic about Florida and its prospects. Last year, job growth in Florida exceeded expectations while the state’s unemployment rate, now at a 6-year low, was one of only a few in the country to rapidly decline. Our housing market has improved and the population growth Florida is well known for has begun to return. Perhaps our most exciting prospect is the renewed growth and intensity of Florida businesses, startups and industries over the past year, which has characterized Florida’s strong economic performance and helped label us as ahead of the pack in 2013.

Explore the new edition of Florida’s Bottom Line. Inside, you’ll find expert insight on Florida’s economy, finances, workforce and housing market in the year ahead.