Volume 2, Number 50, December 12, 2005
‘Tis the season to be jolly, but it’s also important to keep fire safety in mind as you celebrate. Candles, tree lights and a fireplace can make for a festive atmosphere, but they can also pose a fire hazard.
The number of home fires often doubles in December, but by following a few precautions, you and your family can ensure you have a safe and happy holiday. Most importantly, make sure you have working smoke alarms and that your family has practiced a fire escape plan. Here are some additional tips:
For more seasonal fire safety tips, including a new Home and Holiday Fire Safety CD, are available at www.MyFloridaCFO.com.
-- Tom Gallagher
SERIES OF WORKERS’ COMPENSATION WORKSHOPS ANNOUNCED FOR ORLANDO, TAMPA AND FT. MYERS
Tom Gallagher, Florida’s chief financial officer, announced a series of town hall workshops to give employers and employees an update on the state’s workers’ compensation system and to answer questions about recent rate reductions. The Division of Workers’ Compensation (DWC) is located within the Department of Financial Services which Gallagher oversees.
The workshops will be held in Ft. Myers on December 13th, in Tampa on December 14th and in Orlando on December 15th. All of the sessions will take place from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
“Meaningful reforms, more aggressive investigation of workers’ compensation fraud and compliance efforts have led to dramatic savings for Florida’s businesses,” Gallagher said. “But we must continue to improve the system for our small businesses and our workers.”
Gallagher spearheaded the passage of Senate Bill 50A in 2003 that reformed the state's workers’ compensation system, including tougher penalties for workers’ compensation fraud and premium evasion. This year's decrease in workers’ compensation insurance rates will be the third consecutive drop in rates since the bill's passage, for a total savings of nearly $1 billion since 2003.
The workshops will be held on:
Tuesday, December 13th in Ft. Myers
Wednesday, December 14th in Tampa|
Thursday, December 15th in Orlando
GALLAGHER DETAILS ONGOING EFFORTS TO COMBAT METH
Fire and arson detectives respond to two meth lab fires in one week
Tom Gallagher, State Fire Marshal, said that his office has responded to nearly 50 fires and explosions at methamphetamine or “meth” labs – including two in the past ten days. The State Fire Marshal’s Office is hosting a meeting with representatives from the Department of Environmental Protection to forge a stronger partnership for combating this growing menace to Florida communities.
Gallagher is pushing for laws that would allow the immediate removal of children from a home being used as a meth lab and enhanced penalties for methamphetamine makers, particularly those whose labs injure first responders.
In Florida, there has been a more than 1,000-percent increase in the number of meth labs seized since 2001.
he Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations is a law enforcement branch of the Division of State Fire Marshal that assists other state and local fire and law enforcement agencies in the investigation of fires of suspicious origin. Anyone with information about this case or any incident of fire is asked to call 1-877-662-7766 (1-877-NOARSON).
STRICTER REQUIREMENTS FOR REPORTING INSURANCE FRAUD
Tom Gallagher, Florida’s chief financial officer, announced that department rules outlining stricter requirements for insurance companies to report insurance fraud will soon be in place. In the wake of multiple hurricanes, Gallagher directed the Department of Financial Services’ Division of Insurance Fraud (DIF) to tighten reporting requirements and enhance penalties for failure to report insurance fraud.
“Insurance fraud forces Florida families to pay more in premiums than necessary,” Gallagher said. “With explicit rules and stiff fines in place, there will be no excuses for failing to report fraud.”
Florida law requires insurance companies to report insurance fraud but does not provide clear guidance for when and what to report when an insurance claim is considered suspicious.
Under the rules Gallagher is promulgating, insurance companies would be required to:
Gallagher is also pushing for legislation in the upcoming legislative session to fine insurance companies up to $50,000 for failing to implement insurance fraud plans and timely report fraud.
The rule will be considered at a public hearing next month.
To date, DIF has opened more than 120 investigations of hurricane-related fraud. More than 30 suspects have been arrested for insurance fraud following the 2004 hurricanes, and eight have been convicted.
In the last five years, Florida has led the nation in insurance fraud arrests and convictions, according to the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud.
“We need to continue aggressively rooting out fraud that financially impacts Florida’s families,” Gallagher said.
OKEECHOBEE CONTRACTOR CHARGED WITH FRAUD, THEFT
Merle Dee Johnston, 69, of Okeechobee, was arrested on the charges following an investigation by detectives with the Florida Department of Financial Services, Division of Insurance Fraud. Johnston allegedly admitted to using some $23,000 of the couple’s construction loan money for personal use.
GALLAGHER ANNOUNCES ARREST OF TAMPA COUPLE FOR STEALING UNCLAIMED PROPERTY
Tom Gallagher, Florida’s chief financial officer, announced the arrest of a husband and wife who conspired to illegally collect more than $11,000 in unclaimed property. Investigators with the Department of Financial Services’ Office of Fiscal Integrity said that the couple got caught when the man’s brother, and rightful owner of the unclaimed property, contacted the department to collect the money.
“Stealing money for personal gain is unconscionable and warrants swift and severe action by state prosecutors,” said Gallagher, who oversees the Department of Financial Services.
Stephen Gutstein, 65, was arrested and booked into the Hillsborough County Jail on charges of grand theft, forgery and uttering a forged instrument. His wife, Lynne Gutstein, 59, was also arrested and charged with grand theft. If convicted, each felony count carries a sentence up to 5 years in prison plus a $5,000 fine.
According to state investigators, Stephen and Donald Gutstein are brothers who were entitled to nearly $23,000 in proceeds from their deceased parents’ estate. Stephen Gutstein immediately collected his half of the money, or $11, 231.15. Stephen Gutstein, with help from his wife Lynne, created a false document containing his brother’s forged signature on the unclaimed property affidavit to illegally collect his brother’s half of the funds.
The department’s Bureau of Unclaimed Property learned that the money had been fraudulently obtained when Donald Gutstein filed to collect his rightful portion of the proceeds. Donald Gutstein did not immediately pursue the funds because of health problems.