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FLORIDA CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER TOM GALLAGHER'S WEEKLY NEWSLETTER

Volume 2, Number 29, July 18, 2005   

The hurricane season of 2004 was unprecedented, with four catastrophic storms making landfall within 45 days. Many lessons have been learned from these storms – including the importance of a coordinated emergency response effort, which our office was proud to be involved in, and the level of assistance needed to help thousands of consumers with their insurance concerns and struggles. 

We also learned of the unpredictability of where hurricanes may strike, and as a result, we are seriously heeding storm warnings and proactively protecting our homes and families.

That was less than a year ago.  

Now we are dealing with the havoc that Hurricane Dennis has wreaked in the Florida Panhandle, causing as much as $3 billion in insured and economic damages.  Storm surge was as high as 12 feet in some areas, flooding thousands of homes and businesses from Pensacola over to Apalachee Bay.   

Many of the people I spoke with while visiting storm-ravaged areas last week were shocked and dismayed to see their homes and streets buried in sand.  I’m extremely concerned for those who have not only lost their homes but have lost their livelihoods, especially those in the seafood industry.   

We can, and we will, recover.  And Floridians should know that we will do whatever we can to help them get back on their feet as quickly as possible.  

Equally important is to remind all Floridians that experts predict this will be a very active hurricane season so take steps now to protect yourself and your property, including purchasing flood insurance.

Call us at 1-800-22STORM.  We’re here to help.

                     -- Tom Gallagher
 


GALLAGHER ISSUES EMERGENCY RULE CAPPING PUBLIC ADJUSTER FEES TO PROTECT STORM VICTIMS

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher has issued an emergency rule to protect victims of Hurricane Dennis by capping public adjuster fees at 10 percent of claim payment and giving consumers up to 14 days to rescind a contract with a public adjuster without penalty. The emergency rule also prohibits public adjusters from demanding or accepting any type of compensation prior to the settlement of the claim.

"The people of  Florida have suffered enough, and we are going to do all we can to further protect them during the recovery period," Gallagher said.  Gallagher oversees the Department of Financial Services and has activated a storm hotline, 1-800-22-STORM (1-800-227-8676), to help storm victims with questions or complaints they may have with filing an insurance claim.

Gallagher imposed the same cap on fees and prohibition on up-front payments during last year’s four storms in response to reports that some public adjusters were demanding fees of as much as 25 percent of claim payment.

Gallagher also warned consumers to make sure they are dealing with a licensed public adjuster.  Last year, detectives with the department’s Division of Insurance Fraud arrested seven individuals acting as public adjusters without a license. Consumers can call the storm hotline or visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com to verify licensure of any adjuster.

Public adjusters are not affiliated with any insurance company and are hired by the consumer for a fee. Independent and company adjusters work for insurance companies and do not charge fees to consumers.


GALLAGHER ANNOUNCES UPDATE TO HURRICANE RECOVERY EFFORTS

Florida's Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher announced  that the Department of Financial Services has established a second mobile response unit in Destin and is also located in four disaster recovery centers being operated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

"We will have personnel in the area for as long as it takes to help residents get back on their feet," said Gallagher, who oversees the department and also serves as State Fire Marshal.

Gallagher opened the department's first mobile response unit in Milton at the Gateway Plaza, located at 6588 Caroline St. and the second mobile unit is open at the Home Depot, 4385 Commons Drive, in Destin. The mobile units will be open daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Department consumer service specialists also will be available at FEMA disaster recovery centers located at the AFO Annex, 33 Brent Lane, Pensacola; the Agriculture Building, 6001-A Industrial Blvd, Century; Jay Community Center, 5259 Booker Lane, Jay; and South Santa Rosa Service  Center, 5841 Gulf Breeze Parkway, Gulf Breeze.

The State Fire Marshal's Office is responsible for mobilizing search and rescue efforts from the state Emergency Operations Center during an emergency.  Gallagher, in his role as State Fire Marshal, dispatched members of the department's two law enforcement agencies to assist in search and rescue efforts in areas devastated by Hurricane Dennis. 

Floridians needing assistance with hurricane recovery can get help by calling 1-800-22-STORM or by going to www.MyFloridaCFO.com.  Gallagher said mediation centers set up in the wake of last year's hurricanes are still open and can help Floridians having trouble settling claims with their insurance companies.
 


STATE UNCLAIMED PROPERTY AUCTION TO BE HELD JULY 30 IN FORT LAUDERDALE

Jewelry, coins, antiques and collectibles will be among approximately 40,000 items to be auctioned later this month by the state to benefit Florida’s public schools.  Among the items are a 14-karat gold purse, a 5-carat sapphire ring, and an 1889 CC Morgan silver dollar.

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher is urging potential bidders to mark their calendars for July 29 and July 30 to attend the auction at the Wyndham Hotel, 1870 Griffin Road, in Ft. Lauderdale.  The preview will be held July 29 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and the auction will begin at 9 a.m. on the July 30.  A live simulcast of the auction will also be available at http://www.fisherauction.com

“This has been a record-setting year in the amount of unclaimed items reported to the state and the number of items we have been able to return to owners,” Gallagher said.  “We would like to be able to return all of the items to the rightful owners, but that just doesn’t always happen, so this is an opportunity to find some unique items and help Florida’s school children all at the same time.”

The items that go to auction have been unclaimed for at least three years after being found in abandoned safe deposit boxes.  Claiming money or property turned over to the state is free, and at any time owners or their heirs can claim the money the items earn at auction.  The department also has a website, www.FLtreasurehunt.org, which owners or heirs can regularly check to see if the state is holding unclaimed property for them.  They can also check by calling 1-88-VALUABLE.

Registration for the auction requires a refundable $200 cash deposit and valid driver license.  An 8-percent buyer's premium will be added to final bids.

An on-line auction catalog can be found on the Fisher Auction Co. website, and consumers can get a hard copy of the auction catalog by contacting Fisher Auction Co. at (954) 942-0917.  Catalogs will also be available at the auction. 


STATE FIRE MARSHAL DIVISION DIRECTOR RAND NAPOLI HONORED

State Fire Marshal Tom Gallagher is pleased to announce that  Rand Napoli was named State Fire Marshal of the Year - Fire Prevention by the National Association of State Fire Marshals in Reno, Nevada, at their annual conference. 

State Fire Marshal Gallagher appointed Rand director of the division of State Fire Marshal in 2001. “Rand is an exceptional leader who brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the job, " Gallagher said. "Fire prevention is everyone's concern, and Rand helps create and direct our consumer education programs on prevention and safety."

Napoli has 34 years of operational and administrative experience in fire, EMS, hazardous-materials and disaster management, and was chief of operations of the more than 1,000-member Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department.  Napoli was chief of the Bureau of Fire Standards and Training in the division of State Fire Marshal prior to becoming division director.

He is a co-author of the Florida Statewide Fire-Rescue Emergency Response Plan, and is Florida’s emergency coordinating officer for fire, search and rescue at the state Emergency Operations Center. Gov. Jeb Bush has appointed him to the Florida State Emergency Response Commission for Hazardous Materials, and he serves on Florida’s Domestic Security Oversight Board and the Florida Violent Crime and Drug Control Commission. At the national level, he is Chairman of the National Association of State Fire Marshals Catastrophic Fire Prevention Task Force.

“Leadership is not so much about technique and methods as it is about opening the heart.  Leadership is about inspiration – of oneself and of others,” stated Napoli during the presentation of a Leadership Award to Rand Napoli, director of the division of State Fire Marshal, by the Gator Fire Council at its Fifth Annual Firefighters Ball in Gainesville in February. 


GALLAGHER ANNOUNCES ARRESTS FOR AUTO ‘DITCHING’

Cases result in more than $120,000 in fraudulent insurance claims

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher announced today that detectives with the Department of Financial Services’ Division of Insurance Fraud (DIF), working with the Palm Beach County Multi-Agency Auto Theft Task Force, assisted in the arrests of eight individuals accused of “ditching” their vehicles and claiming them stolen in order to collect more than $120,000 in auto insurance benefits.

The hitch:  they “ditched” the vehicles by selling them to undercover officers.  In the past fiscal year, DIF has arrested 20 south Florida residents for similar offenses.  Auto insurance fraud is estimated to cost the average Florida family as much as $240 a year.

"Floridians will not tolerate footing the bill for this kind of fraud," said Gallagher, who oversees the department.  "We will continue to work aggressively to uncover these schemes and bring these offenders to justice, and we are proud to partner with the Palm Beach County Multi-Agency Auto Theft Task Force."

Ditching, also referred to as an owner give-up, occurs when the owner is unhappy with the vehicle or can no longer keep up with payments and either pays someone to get rid of the car, as these suspects are accused of doing, or gets rid of it by dumping or burning the vehicle.

The Palm Beach County Multi-Agency Auto Theft Task Force was formed in June 1997, and is comprised of the Division of Insurance Fraud, Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office, Palm Beach Gardens Police Department, Riviera Beach Police Department, West Palm Beach Police Department, Boca Raton Police Department, Delray Beach Police Department, Lantana Police Department, Atlantis Police Department, Florida Highway Patrol, State Attorney's Office, National Insurance Crime Bureau,  Lo Jack and Progressive Insurance. The Federal Bureau of Investigation also assisted in these recent arrests.

The objectives of the task force are to recover stolen vehicles and prevent further theft through proactive investigations.  Since its inception the task force has made more than 1,400 arrests and recovered more than $34 million worth of vehicles and parts.  DIF investigates fraud in all lines of insurance, including health, life, auto, property and workers' compensation insurance.

The arrests were made over the last few months.  Members of the task force made four additional arrests for odometer fraud.

Those arrests that DIF participated in were:

Eric G. Lopez, 40, 432 Forest Hill Blvd., West Palm Beach – one count of organized scheme to defraud, seven counts of grand theft over $20,000, and three counts of grand theft over $10,000.

Roberto Lazaro Hernandez
, 37, Miami-Dade County – insurance fraud and grand theft.
Adrian Diego Beliveau
, 29, Miami-Dade County – insurance fraud.
Jennifer Munoz
, 30, Miami-Dade County – insurance fraud.
Dennis Mercer
, 40, Palm Beach County – insurance fraud.
Andrew Kirschenbaum, 33, Palm Beach County – insurance fraud.
Jesse McGay, 28, Palm Beach County – insurance fraud.
Oveido Piedra, 21, Broward County – insurance fraud.

Anyone with information about these cases or other possible fraud schemes should call the Department of Financial Services’ fraud hotline at 1-800-378-0445.  A reward of up to $25,000 may be offered for information leading to an arrest and conviction
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REWARD OFFERED FOR INFORMATION  CONCERNING ARSON AT THE ISLAMIC SOCIETY OF CENTRAL FLORIDA 

Detectives with the Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations is conducting an on-going investigation of an intentionally set fire that occurred on July 6, 2005 at 5:53 a.m. that damaged the Islamic Society of Central Florida located at 2200 Harrell Road, Orlando, Florida 32817.   

Significant information has been received providing information on vehicles that were seen in the area at the time the fire occurred.  The Florida Advisory Committee on Arson Prevention (FACAP) is offering a reward of up to $2,500 for information that might further this investigation. If you, or someone you know, have pertinent information concerning this arson fire, please contact one of the following:   

Detective Arnie Amoros – 407-893-3654
Captain John Corbett – 407-893-3654
Florida Advisory Committee on Arson Prevention – 1-877-NO ARSON 

YOU CAN REMAIN ANONYMOUS


The Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations is the law enforcement branch of the Division of State Fire Marshal.  Anyone with information about any suspicious fire is asked to call 1-877-662-7766 (1-877-NOARSON).  Information also may be mailed to Arson Control, P.O. Box 1654, Winter Park, Florida, 32790.
 



Consumer Services HelpLine
(800) 342-2762.