Volume 1 Number 16
April 19, 2004









 

 

 

 

 

 


STATE HIRES PROSECUTOR TO HELP DRIVE DOWN PIP FRAUD                       

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer and Miami-Dade’s top prosecutor are teaming up to combat auto insurance fraud, which costs Florida families as much as $250 annually.  CFO Tom Gallagher and Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle today announced the hiring of a prosecutor who will be dedicated to prosecuting personal injury protection (PIP) fraud cases.

Nina Vivenzio, who formerly served as an assistant chief in the Career Criminal/Robbery Division of the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office, stepped into her new role of PIP fraud prosecutor last month.  She will be based in Miami, where the Department of Financial Services’ Division of Insurance Fraud has made nearly 600 PIP fraud arrests since 1999.  That represents nearly 60 percent of all fraud arrests in that region. 

“Florida families should be protected from criminals bent on bilking the system,” said Gallagher, who oversees the Department of Financial Services.  “These individuals will be brought to justice by a prosecutor dedicated to PIP fraud cases, not lost in a backlog of cases.”

In her previous position, Vivenzio was one of the assistance chiefs responsible for the supervision of the prosecution of all career criminal cases in the State Attorney’s Office.  She has extensive experience in dealing with criminal cases, including the prosecution of multi-defendant, complex schemes.

“A full-time prosecutor dedicated to prosecuting PIP cases is needed to stem the tide of increasing numbers of PIP schemes,” said Fernandez Rundle.  “We’re sending a message to unscrupulous doctors, lawyers, clinic owners and phony accident victims that Florida intends to make them pay society back.”

The Florida Automobile Joint Underwriting Association (FAJUA), the state’s insurer of last resort for consumers unable to find coverage in the private market, is also partnering with the Department of Financial Services and the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office to provide the new prosecutor’s position.

“Scam artists seeking to profit by falsifying PIP claims should know that this new prosecutor is on board and eager to prosecute fraud offenders,” said Eli Feinberg, Chairman of the FAJUA Board of Directors.  “This is a vital step toward a healthier auto insurance market.”

The Coalition Against Insurance Fraud estimates that auto insurance fraud, particularly the fast growing problem of PIP fraud, costs Florida’s economy more than $1.1 billion a year in higher premiums and higher costs for goods and services.  Florida law requires drivers to carry a minimum of $10,000 in PIP coverage and $10,000 in property damage liability coverage.  PIP coverage provides up to $10,000 per victim for medical bills, regardless of who is at fault.

PIP benefits are increasingly targeted by unscrupulous doctors, clinic owners, chiropractors and attorneys who bill insurance companies for services and procedures that are unnecessary or were never provided.  Accident victims are solicited, but just as often crashes are staged for the purpose of generating claims.  Since 1999, state fraud investigators have arrested 370 phony accident “victims.”

Over the past several years the Florida Legislature has put in place a number of reforms aimed at reducing PIP fraud.  In 2002, fee schedules were established for common procedures, such as MRIs, that have been exploited by PIP fraud perpetrators.  The Legislature also restricted the release of police accident reports and extended the time available to insurance companies to investigate suspicious claims.  Last year, legislators approved a mandatory two-year prison sentence for those convicted of organizing or participating in staged auto collisions.

The Department of Financial Services operates a fraud hotline at 1-800-378-0445 and offers up to $25,000 for information leading to an arrest and conviction in complex insurance fraud schemes.