Consumer eViews
FLORIDA CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER ALEX SINK'S WEEKLY NEWSLETTER

Volume 4, Number 24, June 15, 2007

Dear Floridian:

I am pleased to announce that the 50,000 homeowners previously awaiting wind mitigation inspections through the My Safe Florida Home (MSFH) program have all been served - a month earlier than anticipated - and the program is now eagerly awaiting applications from more homeowners.

The Department of Financial Services has streamlined the program to provide better service and give homeowners valuable information about the steps they can take to mitigate their homes. We must build a culture of mitigation in our state and, long-term, mitigation is the key to reducing our state’s exposure to catastrophic hurricane damage.

Please read more about the program below and take the time to log on to www.mysafefloridahome.com to find out how safe your home is, what you can do to strengthen your home against hurricanes, and if you are eligible for savings on your hurricane insurance premiums. Many homeowners have learned that they qualify for an average 18 percent savings before doing any mitigation work.

Our goal at the My Safe Florida Home program is ultimately to make our beloved state "My Safe Florida!"

Sincerely,

--Alex Sink


27 ARRESTED IN MIAMI STAGED ACCIDENT RING
‘Operation TGIF’ uncovers insurers billed $300,000 in staged Friday accidents

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink announced today the arrests of 27 people in an ongoing investigation into a staged accident ring that billed auto insurers more than $300,000 in fraudulent Personal Injury Protection (PIP) claims.  The investigation was dubbed “Operation TGIF” because the staged accidents occurred on Fridays. 

The investigation began after fraud detectives from the Department of Financial Services, Division of Insurance Fraud (DIF), were interviewed on a Miami radio show and afterward a caller provided details regarding staged accidents.  The caller helped fraud detectives infiltrate the staged accident ring between December 2006 and April 2007.  Those arrested are charged with conspiracy to commit racketeering, a first-degree felony punishable by up to 30 years in prison, and several are also charged with money laundering. 

“We do not take insurance fraud lightly, especially when so many people are conspiring to rip off Floridians,” said CFO Sink, who oversees the department. “I commend all of the investigators for their hard work and thank the caller who provided the tip for having the courage to stand up for what is right.” 

Those arrested include Martin Triana, 45, owner of MTG Diagnostic Center; Triana’s wife Gisela Casuso, 33, manager of MTG Diagnostics; and Jimmy Suros-Corzo, 35, owner, and Aramys Lopez, 32, manager, of T&A Diagnostic Center, who allegedly recruited participants for the accidents and filed fraudulent insurance claims; and Gerardo Melenez, 47, a paralegal who often passed himself off as attorney Victor Careaga and coached participants on how to lie to insurance companies. The suspects could face additional charges under a Florida law that provides a mandatory minimum two-year prison sentence for staging an auto accident.  In addition to the arrests, search warrants were served at two clinics, an attorney’s office, and a home that served as the corporate address for two businesses.   

DIF was assisted in the investigation by the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the U.S. Secret Service and the North Miami Police Department.  The insurance companies defrauded in this investigation were 21st Century, Esurance, Geico, Met Life, Response, State Farm, Unitrin, Victoria Fire & Casualty, and AIG as well as Avis, Dollar and Hertz rental companies.  The insurance companies’ special investigations units (SIUs) were instrumental in the investigation, along with dedicated prosecutors Nina Vivenzio and Thomas Sadler, whose positions are provided through a partnership between DIF, the Florida Automobile Joint Underwriting Association and the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s office. Evangelina Brooks was DIF’s lead detective.

This case is part of a continuing crackdown by DIF, the insurance industry and the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) to fight auto insurance fraud, which is estimated to cost the average Florida family as much as $240 a year.   

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 any suspected insurance fraud is asked to call the department's Fraud Fighters Hotline at 1-800-378-0445.  A reward of up to $25,000 may be offered for information leading to an arrest and conviction.


TASK FORCE ON CITIZENS PROPERTY INSURANCE CLAIMS HANDLING
AND RESOLUTION TO MEET IN FT. LAUDERDALE

In an ongoing effort to improve Citizens’ policyholder and applicant services, Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink is convening the fourth meeting of the legislatively-created Task Force on Citizens Property Insurance Claims Handling and Resolution. The task force will meet twice on Tuesday, June 19, 2007, from 2 – 4 p.m. and 6 – 8 p.m. at Nova Southeastern University, in the Rose and Alfred Miniaci Performing Arts Center.

Consumers who have homeowner policies with Citizens or who have open claims from the 2004/2005 hurricane seasons are encouraged to attend the public hearings and provide public testimony. The Department of Financial Services will also have consumer assistance on site to help Floridians with questions regarding Citizens claims and policies.

The Citizens task force was created by House Bill 1A during the 2007 special session of the Florida Legislature. The task force is composed of: Chairman and Florida’s Insurance Consumer Advocate Bob Milligan; Vice Chairman and Senator Mike Fasano; Representative Julio Robaina; Michael B. Twomey Sr., Attorney; Mike Lancashire, VP, The Main Street America Group; Heather Carruthers, Fair Insurance Rates in Monroe County; and Tim Loftin, VP of Claims at Citizens Property Insurance Corporation.

The task force is directed to develop recommendations for Citizens to complete claims remaining from the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons. The report is due to the Governor, Chief Financial Officer, President of the Senate and Speaker of the House by July 1, 2007. The task force is additionally charged with evaluating Citizens’ procedures on claims handling, claims resolution and customer service, with a final report and recommendations due July 1, 2008.

The fourth meeting of the Task Force on Citizens Property Insurance Claims Handling and Resolution will be as follows:

DATE:         Tuesday, June 19, 2007
TIME:          2 p.m. – 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. – 8 p.m.
LOCATION: Nova Southeastern University
                  Rose and Alfred Miniaci Performing Arts Center
                  3100 Ray Ferrero Jr. Blvd.
                  Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33314

CFO Sink has also created a Web site dedicated to the task force, its duties, appointments, and upcoming meetings. Floridians who would like to learn more about the task force are encouraged to visit the Web site at http://www.taskforceoncitizensclaimshandling.org.


MY SAFE FLORIDA HOME ‘BLOWING’ THROUGH WIND INSPECTIONS
CFO Sink urges more homeowners to sign up for free wind inspections

More than one month ahead of schedule, Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink today announced that the My Safe Florida Home (MSFH) program has “blown” through its waiting list and urged more Florida homeowners to take advantage of the valuable service through the program. Since the program resumed offering inspections in late April, more than 50,000 Floridians who were on the program’s waiting list from the pilot phase have received free wind inspections.

After the program got off to a slow start in 2006, CFO Sink streamlined the program to provide better service to more Floridians. New applicants can apply at the MSFH program’s Web site at www.MySafeFloridaHome.com or over the program’s toll-free helpline at 1-866-513-MSFH (6734). With a free wind inspection from the MSFH program, Floridians can learn how safe their homes are, what they can do to strengthen their homes against hurricanes, and if they are eligible for savings on their hurricane insurance premiums. Homeowners who receive an inspection through the MSFH program may be eligible for matching grants up to $5,000 to help harden their homes.

“As a businesswoman, I wanted the My Safe Florida Home program to serve Floridians more efficiently and provide the critical information homeowners needed to harden their homes,” said CFO Sink, who leads the Department of Financial Services. “We are well on our way to informing Florida families about ways to harden their homes and helping them save money on their insurance premiums.”

Any Floridian who lives in a single-family site-built home is eligible for a free wind inspection through the program. Homeowners who receive free wind inspections through the MSFH program will receive a detailed inspection report, complete with eligibility information on matching grants and estimated insurance premium discounts, if the homeowner is eligible.

In order to be eligible for the program’s matching grant reimbursements of up to $5,000, homeowners who sign up now must meet the following requirements under a new law: have received a completed wind inspection report after May 1, 2007; live in a single-family, site-built home – built before March 1, 2002; have a valid homestead exemption; insured value of $300,000 or less; and be located in the wind-borne debris region.

CFO Sink this week led the Florida Cabinet to require insurance companies for the next 90 days to recognize the MSFH wind inspection reports as sufficient evidence for homeowners to access insurance premium discounts, if they are eligible.

Previously, participating homeowners were required by insurance companies to hire a wind inspector or other licensed professional to fill out a separate form to access insurance discounts, often at great cost to the consumer. After 90 days, future inspections with the MSFH program will include a certified Uniform Mitigation Form for Florida homeowners who are eligible for a discount on their insurance premiums.

Since April 2007, the MSFH program has awarded more than 5,600 grants to homeowners to harden their homes. Nearly 250 homeowners have completed the improvements recommended in their inspection reports for a total payout of more than $680,000. Homeowners are being reimbursed for half the cost up to $5,000 on a variety of home improvements, including hurricane shutters, reinforced garage doors and roof enhancements.

CFO Sink’s goal is to complete 400,000 free wind inspections over the next two years.


FLORIDA CLIMATE CHANGE CONVERSATIONS CONTINUE

Serving as the State Treasurer, Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink has dedicated her first six months in office to understanding the issues that affect the future of Florida’s economy.

In this pursuit, CFO Sink has launched an effort to educate the Cabinet and our state's citizens about the potential implications of climate change.

Additionally, CFO Sink joined the Investor Network on Climate Risk (INCR), a national network of investors focused on the business impacts of climate change. CFO Sink is the first Florida-based institutional investor to join the three-year-old organization, which now includes more than 50 public and private institutional investors managing more than $3.7 trillion in assets. The network focuses on the future financial risks and investment opportunities posed by climate change.

CFO Sink has partnered with Commissioner of Agriculture Charles Bronson to host a series of “Conversations on Climate Change.”  this week, CFO Sink and Commissioner Bronson hosted the second workshop titled Climate Change: Renewable Energy Solutions. During the workshop, CFO Sink discussed ways to bring Florida to the forefront – economically--by developing and investing in renewable energy sources.

The next conversation will be held on Tuesday, September 18, 2007, on the topic of climate change as related to finance and insurance issues.

On November 14, the conversations will convene with experts continuing to discuss solutions and action for Florida's sustained financial health.

Another way CFO Sink is working to increase awareness about the issue is through www.floridaclimatechange.com, a website created for Floridians seeking information about climate change, links to other climate change organizations, and most importantly information about the possible financial impact of climate change on Florida’s economy.


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