Consumer eViews

Volume 2, Number 13, March 28, 2005    

The day the Lord created hope was probably the same day he created Spring.  --Bern Williams

Florida's recent storms recall pain as well as perseverance and hope through family and community. As we move forward in this gentle season, we are stronger for our experiences and hopeful for the future. 

As we renew our hearts and minds, let us hope for the good health and welfare of all people. I hope that your holidays have brought you and your family together to share your lives in love and peace. And as we reflect on the rebirth of life around us, let us hope for the freedom to change for the better in all we do.  

Last week, we lost a public servant who looked on the bright side and loved Florida dearly. It is with sadness that we mark the passing of our dedicated lawmaker, Representative David Coley of Marianna.  Our prayers are with his family.

                      -- Tom Gallagher


Due to overwhelming response at the four town hall meetings held so far, three additional town hall meetings have been scheduled. 

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher has announced dates and locations for the next town hall meetings to assist Floridians still recovering from last year’s hurricanes.  The first four meetings were held in Pensacola, Sebastian, Punta Gorda and Orlando. 

Fort Pierce, Jupiter and Bartow are the next scheduled locations. 

“Hurricane victims who are still struggling to settle insurance claims are urged to attend one of these meetings,” Gallagher said.  “We want to direct all available resources to getting storm victims’ lives back to normal.”

Gallagher will be accompanied by consumer specialists who will be able to work with policyholders individually.

CFO Tom Gallagher Town Hall Meetings

Saturday, April 2nd,  9 a.m. to noon.
Lincoln Park Academy, 1806 Avenue I, Fort Pierce 

Thursday, April 7th,  5 p.m. - 8 p.m.
Jupiter Community Center, 210 Military Trail, Jupiter

Saturday, April 9th, 9 a.m. to noon.
Bartow High School, 1270 South Broadway, Bartow.  

For more information, call the Department of Financial Services’ storm hotline at 1-800-22-STORM or log on to


Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher today alerted Floridians who are still waiting to have their roofs replaced and repaired that costs for replacing temporary blue tarps are reimbursable by their insurance company.  Because of the widespread damage caused by the four hurricanes that crossed the state last year, Florida is now facing a shortage of available contractors to repair all of the property damage caused by the storms.
 “As we enter the spring season in Florida, we are seeing the sun get stronger and the heavy rains are starting,” said Gallagher.  “Many of our neighbors, unfortunately, have had these tarps on their roofs for over six months, and the tarps may be getting worn or loose and will provide less protection from UV rays or water.  While we want storm victims to get a real roof over their heads as soon as possible, we at least want the tarps they have to be in good shape while they wait.” 
Gallagher said homeowners policies approved in Florida require insurance companies to pay reasonable costs incurred by homeowners for necessary measures to protect covered property from further damage, including purchasing and installing the tarps.  Gallagher added that homeowners should not risk injury trying to replace the tarps because materials and labor costs are reimbursable. 


“The last time I was here for the town hall meeting, I had the opportunity to listen to and talk with more than 1,000 Pensacola residents who were frustrated with their insurance companies and did not know what to do or where to turn.

“Residents like Marlene Bigalow, who told me she was eating grits three times a day and was desperate to get her insurance check. I’m happy to say that a check was cut within seven days to Ms. Bigalow on her claim, and we are hoping she has already started getting her life back.
“Following the town hall meeting, I called in the chief executive officers of five insurance companies to get an explanation of why they were unresponsive, stalling payments or low-balling claims.
“In addition to getting their commitment to resolve outstanding claims, we specifically requested a best practices checklist for catastrophes, clear and concise information to policyholders on their claims, and improved claims handling.
“So far, we are seeing progress since the town hall meeting three weeks ago today.  At our meeting, we opened 142 new complaints for residents.  Today, half of them have been resolved or are going to mediation.
“Since Ivan hit, we have worked with nearly 10,000 area residents to get resolution from their insurance company.  Today, we have 501 open cases. 
“But that doesn’t mean our work is over.  There may be others in this area who still need help with their hurricane claim.  We’re here to help, and the best way to get help is to call us – the Department of Financial Services – at 1-800-22-STORM.
“In the meantime, I am continuing to monitor the progress of Florida’s homeowners insurance companies to ensure that storm victims’ claims are handled fairly and expeditiously.”



Regulators from the Florida Office of Financial Regulation (OFR) today ordered the principals of a bogus real estate securities organization to cease operations immediately.   Thomas Andrew Masciarelli, 47, of West Palm Beach, and Steven Paul Petrarca, 54, of Delray Beach, are charged with securities fraud and with the sale of unregistered promissory notes by unregistered persons.  The scheme operated under the name American Income Real Estate Investments Inc. (AIREI). 

Also today, based on an investigation by the Division of Agent and Agency Services, administrative complaints have been filed which seek to revoke the agent licenses of Masciarelli and Petrarca on multiple counts of violation of the insurance code.

“Kudos to our investigators for identifying this scam early on so more Floridians avoided being trapped in AIREI’s scheme,” said Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher.   “Consumers should be wary of investment offerings from unlicensed entities.  Too often consumers invest in programs offering high rates of return only to discover that their life’s savings are gone.   Now we will go after the licenses of these two and consider additional charges and penalties.” 

Masciarelli and Petrarca are believed to have defrauded at least 31 investors, from Florida and Rhode Island, of more than $1 million.  Some of these victims had invested their entire life savings.   

AIREI principals told victims they would use their invested dollars to purchase, rejuvenate and lease or sell real estate with guaranteed interest rates of 7 to 9 percent.  AIREI never purchased any real estate and spent most of the money for personal use.   To appear legitimate, AIREI sent phony statements to investors showing their accounts earning healthy rates of return. 

Florida Commissioner of Financial Regulation Don Saxon acknowledged the fine work shown by OFR investigators in uncovering this scheme and also thanked the Securities Division of the Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation for their help on the case.   

Floridians are urged to contact the Department of Financial Services at 1-800-342-2762 and Verify Before You Buy financial products, investments or securities.  Make sure the institution or person offering investments or investment advice is licensed to operate in Florida. 

Consumer Services HelpLine
(800) 342-2762.