Consumer eViews

Volume 3, Number 31, July 31, 2006

More than 30 years ago, as a legislator, I was a vocal advocate of eliminating the state intangibles – a tax that unfairly punishes our citizens for saving and investing, and has been a burden shouldered almost entirely by seniors, small-business owners and middle-aged savers. Governor Bush has now signed House Bill 209 into law, abolishing this unreasonable tax.

The repeal of this tax will save 300,000 taxpayers more than $131 million next year alone. This will build on the more than $19 billion in tax relief the governor and Legislature have provided Floridians since 1999. 

It is impossible to estimate the number of people or businesses who chose to relocate to a state other than Florida to avoid having their savings taxed. Eliminating the intangibles tax will encourage a new influx of investors, entrepreneurs and retirees, which in turn will result in more investment and more growth in our economy.  I applaud him and the Legislature for ending this double-taxation of our citizens.

The Department of Financial Services offers an education program, Your Money, Your life, that Floridians plan and prepare for every financial stage of life, from starting college or starting a family through retirement.  For important tips and information on how to grow and safeguard your family’s nest egg, log on to

Nothing is more important than supporting our families, because strong families make for a strong Florida.

-- Tom Gallagher


CFO's call for better protections results in improved website

Tom Gallagher, Florida’s chief financial officer, and Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey today announced that Florida’s families for the first time will have access to information to help them identify sexual predators’ vehicles via the state’s sex offender web site.  The nearly 39,000 offenders currently listed on the site have victimized children as well as adults and the elderly.  Gallagher suggested the enhanced search feature at a Cabinet meeting last June. 

“This enhancement will empower Floridians with greater information about the people who live in their neighborhoods so that our children, our seniors and our loved ones can be informed and protected,” Gallagher said.

Gallagher today also urged FDLE to pursue establishing a system that would allow Floridians, free of charge, to receive a notification when a sexual predator or offender registers an address within a certain distance from their home or other address such as their child’s college apartment or dormitory or a nursing home where a parent is receiving care.  Gallagher said he is aware that some private vendors provide a similar service, but often do so for a fee.

“Florida especially shines when it comes to ensuring that information about sexual predators and offenders is readily accessible," said FDLE Commissioner Bailey.  "Florida's sexual predator/offender web site typically logs over half a million hits each month.  Adding vehicles and vessels to the site is another valuable tool for parents, families and citizens to use to be familiar with registered offenders and predators in their area.”

Of the 39,000 offenders listed on the web site, currently about 25,000 are still alive and living outside of prison, and about 18,000 have registered vehicles or vessels, according to FDLE.

The Web site can be accessed through the FDLE home page at as well as on the Department of Financial Services’ web site at  These links also lead to information about Florida sexual offender and predator registration laws, highlighted offenders who are wanted for failure to register, and other related informational links. As of today, the updated site will also include a user-friendly tab that gives parents up-to-date information on vehicles and vessels registered to the listed offenders.  The information will include the make, tag number, color, type and year of vehicles and vessels.


With the closing of Babcock Ranch today, the vision to preserve 74,000 acres has become a reality.  The largest single acquisition in Florida’s history, Babcock Ranch provides a crucial piece in the puzzle for providing a natural corridor connecting Lake Okeechobee to the Gulf of Mexico.

Preservation of this major natural ecosystem - that otherwise would be developed - is an important environmental legacy for Florida. Public access for activities such as hiking, picnicking and bird watching are in the immediate plans with the state's acquisition. The State of Florida and Lee County joined to purchase 74,000 acres of Babcock Ranch for $350 million.

Kitson and Partners is seeking approval to develop the remainder of the ranch into a community of homes, commercial property, schools and a 27-hole golf course.

"As a member of the Florida Cabinet, I am proud that this treasure will be protected for the benefit of all Floridians," said Tom Gallagher, Florida's chief financial officer.

Bay County man arrested on arson and murder charges

A Bay County man was arrested Friday night on charges of second degree arson for setting his truck on fire.  Clint Stagg, 32, has also been charged with an open count of murder in the death of Tanya Farmer in relation to this case.  The arrest is the result of the collaborative efforts of the State Fire Marshal, the Bay County Sheriff’s office, the Springfield Police Department, the State Attorney’s Office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.  Detective Chris Welch was the agent for the State Fire Marshal’s office on this case.

“I applaud the investigators who were able to work quickly to put this man behind bars,” said State Fire Marshal Tom Gallagher.

Stagg admitted he was out Monday with Farmer buying and smoking “crack” cocaine.  An argument ensued, and Stagg beat Farmer to death with a blunt instrument.  Stagg then carried Farmer’s body in his truck before deciding to bury her in a shallow grave 20 yards off the road on Highway 388, two miles West of Highway 231.  To destroy the evidence, Stagg then set his truck on fire.

The 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). Information may also be mailed to The Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations, 2683 Jenks Avenue, Panama City, FL 32405.


Tom Gallagher, Florida’s chief financial officer, announced that an insurance agent who bilked seven people, including senior citizens, out of more than $2 million in an annuity investment scam has been sentenced to 14 years in prison. This scam made the Department of Financial Services’ 2005-2006 Top 10 Fraud List that Gallagher issued last month.

Charles Gary Cowden, who conducted his scam through Cowden & Associates in Sanford, was sentenced Monday by Seminole County Circuit Court Judge Donna McIntosh after pleading guilty to exploitation of the elderly and six counts of grand theft. Based on the conviction, his agent license was revoked Thursday. In addition to the 14-year prison sentence, Cowden also was ordered to pay restitution, expected to be set at more than $2 million. The conviction follows an 18-month investigation by the Department of Financial Services’ Division of Insurance Fraud (DIF) and the Seminole County State Attorney’s Elder Crimes Unit (SAO). The department’s Division of Agent and Agency Services, Bureau of Investigation, and the Division of Legal Services handled the revocation of Cowden’s license.

“This individual schemed to steal savings from clients who trusted him to help them in their golden years,” said Gallagher, who oversees the department. “I commend the investigators and the state attorney’s office for quickly compiling the evidence needed to bring him to justice.” 

On March 2, 2005, Cowden was arrested at his home after the DIF investigation revealed he had defrauded a long-time friend into making two investments totaling $50,000 in bogus annuities. Cowden bonded out to await his trial. Then in early May 2005, the Seminole County State Attorney’s Elder Crimes Unit referred evidence to DIF that Cowden had manipulated two Green Cove Springs residents, a 77-year-old woman and an 86-year old man, to invest retirement and trust fund monies in the same bogus annuities. Cowden convinced the woman’s son to cancel the legitimate annuities that were his daughter’s college funds and “re-invest” in his bogus products. Cowden misappropriated about $2 million from these victims.

On May 11, 2005, DIF detectives and SAO investigators, assisted by Seminole County Sheriff deputies, executed a search warrant and re-arrested Cowden at his home. Search warrant evidence revealed two additional victims that Cowden defrauded while on bond from the first arrest.

The Department of Financial Services, Division of Insurance Fraud, investigates various forms of fraud in insurance, including health, life, auto, property and workers’ compensation insurance. Anyone with information about this case or another possible fraud scheme should call the department’s Fraud Fighter Hotline at 1-800-378-0445. A reward of up to $25,000 may be offered for information leading to an arrest and conviction.

Consumer Services HelpLine (800) 342-2762

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