CFO Alex Sink's Consumer eViews NewsletterFLORIDA CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER
ALEX SINK'S NEWSLETTER

Volume 6 Number 30 July 24, 2009

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This week, CFO Alex Sink and the Department of Financial Services worked to help Florida’s homeowners in these challenging times.

CFO Sink released a new report that showed a 168% increase in foreclosure preventions by the Florida Attorneys Saving Homes program, since she hosted a roundtable discussion with program lawyers and top lenders focused on better communication and negotiation this April. Also this week, struggling homeowners attended a Florida Housing Help workshop hosted by CFO Sink, DFS and Putnam County officials in Palatka, where homeowners had the opportunity to meet with mortgage lenders, HUD-certified housing counselors and pro-bono legal services representatives.

And Sean Shaw, Florida’s Insurance Consumer Advocate, brought together members of the insurance industry and the home builders’ industry to discuss how disputed claim issues can be resolved in a fair and efficient manner, helping lower costs and frustration for Florida’s homeowners after a major storm. CFO Sink, ICA Shaw, and the Department of Financial Services will continue to find real, tangible ways to help Florida’s homeowners and offer the support they deserve.


CFO Sink's leadership creates dramatic progress in foreclosure prevention for volunteer program

Florida CFO Alex Sink on Wednesday announced that the Florida Attorneys Saving Homes program, which pairs volunteer lawyers with Florida homeowners facing foreclosure, has produced almost triple the amount of successful outcomes since changes initiated with CFO Sink’s leadership this spring. CFO Sink cheered lawyers and Florida lenders after publication of a progress report showing a 168% increase in foreclosure preventions since the April 20, 2009, roundtable discussion between the two groups focused on finding solutions to keep more Floridians in their homes.

Since the April roundtable, lawyers with the Florida Attorneys Saving Homes program have helped 59 Florida homeowners prevent foreclosure by successfully negotiating outcomes such as lower interest rates, decreased payments, and even reductions in the principal of the loan.

“Our state has been especially affected by the housing crisis, which is why I continue to work hard to find avenues to provide real, tangible help to Floridians facing the threat of foreclosure,” said CFO Sink. “I want to thank the thousands of lawyers and top Florida lenders that have stepped up to the plate. I am optimistic that the progress we’ve seen so far will continue and encourage even more success and more cooperation.”

At April’s Protecting Florida’s Homeowner’s Roundtable, moderated by CFO Sink, top lenders and volunteer lawyers developed solutions for better communication and negotiation when working to ease the struggle of Florida’s homeowners. The roundtable gave lenders and pro bono lawyers with the Florida Attorneys Saving Homes program the chance to discuss how to improve their communication and interaction, as they work together to help Floridians facing the threat of foreclosure. They also discussed how the new homeowner assistance plan from the Obama Administration affects their work moving forward.

The progress report includes updates from the roundtable discussion on the following action items for each lender:

In 2007, CFO Sink reached out to the Florida Bar and asked that they provide assistance to struggling homeowners in the state, creating the Florida Attorneys Saving Homes program.  The program pairs pro bono attorneys with Florida homeowners who are behind on their mortgage payments, to help these homeowners try and find solutions with their lenders.  Over 1,000 lawyers across the state have volunteered their time in response to CFO Sink’s call to launch this program.

In addition to the Florida Attorneys Saving Homes Program, CFO Sink has also launched the Florida Housing Help Initiative to assist homeowners facing foreclosure. The initiative partners with community organizations and elected officials to hold foreclosure workshops around the state, and over 5,000 families have already attended these events.  For more information on CFO Sink’s Florida Housing Help Initiative or the Florida Attorneys Saving Homes program, visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com.


Florida Insurance Consumer Advocate Hosts Claims Dispute Resolution Roundtable

In an effort to help Floridians affected by hurricanes, Insurance Consumer Advocate Sean Shaw hosted a roundtable on Thursday, bringing together members of the insurance industry and the home builders’ industry to discuss how disputed claim issues can be identified and resolved in a fair manner. The goal was to establish better communication and processes, so that in the future Florida homeowners can quickly get back into their homes, mitigate further damage to the property, hold down the cost of their claims and allow contractors to start repairs without delays.

The Office of the Insurance Consumer Advocate has heard from many families who have struggled while their homes are uninhabitable or damaged as they deal with the stressful process of mediation, appraisal and litigation. Currently, the insurance industry and home contractors often use different types of estimating processes, which is confusing to homeowners and may lead to delays in the payment of claims.

Participants of the Claims Dispute Resolution Roundtable included:


Florida Housing Help workshop scheduled in Deltona

Florida CFO Alex Sink’s Department of Financial Services has teamed up with the City of Deltona to help aid in the foreclosure crisis by holding a Florida Housing Help workshop at Deltona City Hall on August 8.

The Deltona workshop will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and will include opportunities to meet with mortgage lenders, HUD-certified housing counselors, local housing authorities, pro-bono legal assistance, credit counseling services, and many other foreclosure assistance programs. Deltona City hall is located at 2345 Providence Blvd. Deltona, FL 32725.

Pre-registration is recommended by calling 1-850-413-3089 or 877-MY-FL-CFO (693-5236).

CFO Sink’s Florida Housing Help (FHH) initiative has now directly helped about 5,500 Floridians with information and alternatives to foreclosure.


Racketeering pastor found guilty

CFO Sink’s Two-Year Investigation of Jenson Beach Pastor Rodney McGill and his Wife Shalonda Results in Guilty Verdicts

Florida CFO Alex Sink on Wednesday announced the conviction of Jensen Beach Pastor Rodney McGill and his wife Shalonda, each on one count of Racketeering, four counts of Mortgage Fraud, and four counts of Grand Theft following a seven day jury trial in St. Lucie County Circuit Court. The guilty verdict resulted after an investigation by CFO Sink’s Division of Insurance Fraud and the Office of Financial Regulation showed that the McGills saddled investors with more than $1.15 million in mortgage loans by “flipping” properties in Martin and St. Lucie Counties and then selling the homes using fraudulent loan applications. They face up to 170 years in prison.

"These individuals used their positions in the community to take advantage of people that trusted them," said CFO Sink. "I am grateful for the hard work of our investigators, because now these criminals will have to pay the price for their crimes."

The McGills garnered clients through various programs including the Young Millionaire’s Group, Inc. (YMG); RSM Investment and Mortgage (RSM); and New Hope Outreach Center, Inc. (New Hope), all of which operated out of a facility located at 2110 Arch St. in Jensen Beach. Florida corporation documents identify Rodney McGill as president and Shalonda McGill as vice president of New Hope, which is incorporated as a non-profit church with the McGills listed as pastors.

The investigation found that Rodney McGill, as president of YMG, solicited listeners through a daily local radio program on WJFP Radio. He stated his purpose was to teach and mentor individuals on how to buy and sell real estate without any out-of-pocket expense, with the goal of earning $50,000 in 90 days. In July 2006, investigators said, Rodney McGill solicited listeners of the radio show to call in and qualify, based on their credit, to become one of his “Fab 5.” Callers were assured that they would learn McGill’s real estate investing “cash-out technique.”

The McGills purchased real estate in Martin and St. Lucie counties by preparing and submitting fraudulent loan applications, and then “flipped” the properties to the “Fab 5” for huge profits. Based on the fraudulent loan applications, four mortgages were obtained in excess of the property’s actual worth, and the McGills skimmed off the profits leaving three members of the “Fab 5” with more than $1.15 million in mortgage payments they were unable to make. All of the properties are either in or are facing foreclosure. The buyers all believed they were part of the “Fab 5” and were learning the McGill’s real estate investing techniques.

Many other Florida real estate transactions devised by the McGills remain under investigation, with additional charges anticipated. Anyone with new information is asked to contact Detective Ted Padich, (561) 837-5635, with the Division of Insurance Fraud, or Investigator Steve Brignola, (561) 837-5233, with the Office of Financial Regulation.

For more information or for assistance, log on to www.MyFloridaCFO.com or call our consumer helpline at 1-877-MY-FL-CFO.


State Fire Marshal Sink announces arson arrest following illegal “renovation” plan

Suspect allegedly set fire to his home to collect insurance money for renovation purposes

Florida CFO and State Fire Marshal Alex Sink on Thursday announced that a Hialeah man has been charged with first degree arson for intentionally setting fire to the kitchen of his home, causing over $100,000 in estimated damage, and submitting a false and fraudulent insurance claim. The man admitted to setting the fire with the intention of renovating his home with insurance money.

Cristain Rodriguez Acosta, 34, has been charged with arson of a dwelling, burning to defraud his insurance company and submitting a false and fraudulent claim. He was arrested and booked into the Miami Dade County Jail on Wednesday; if convicted, Acosta faces up to 40 years behind bars. The arrest is the result of an investigation by the State Fire Marshal Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations, with assistance from the Hialeah Fire and Police Departments and Florida Peninsula Insurance Company.

“Arson is a serious crime that puts innocent citizens and rescue personnel at great risk,” said CFO Sink. “I commend the detectives who have worked this case, and urge citizens to report any suspicions or information regarding arson so we can hold criminals accountable for their violent and costly actions.”

During the investigation, State Fire Marshal Detective Charles Toledo collected 4 fire debris samples from the top of the kitchen stove and the surrounding area. The samples were submitted and analyzed at the State Fire Marshal forensic lab, where it was determined that 2 of the 4 samples contained gasoline.

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 arson or any suspicious incident of fire is asked to call 1-877-662-7766 (1-877-NO-ARSON). Rewards are offered for information leading to an arrest and conviction.


Consumer Alert: CFO Sink warns of fraudulent email seeking personal data

Florida CFO Alex Sink is warning Floridians not to respond to a fraudulent email being circulated claiming to be from CFO Sink and requesting personal information in exchange for help with a contract or inheritance file. The fraudulent email further indicates the offer is affiliated with a federal program, including the offer of an ATM card that allows the user to withdraw up to $10,500 a day. CFO Sink cautioned Floridians that the email is in no way connected with her of the Department of Financial Services and that it appears to be an attempt to steal identities from recipients.

The Department of Financial Services, which CFO Sink oversees, received the first notice of the fraudulent email from a consumer on July 18. The fraudulent email is unclear how the consumer was targeted for assistance, but opens with this statement: “This is to officially inform you that we have verified your contract/inheritance file and found out why you have not received your payment, based on the fact that you have not fulfilled all the obligations given to you in respect of your contract/inheritance payment.”

The fraudulent email directs the consumer to email personal data to a Mrs. Annie Marshall, Payment Director, ATM Payment Department. The Department of Financial Services has no employee with that name, no such payment center and is not affiliated with any such center.

The Department’s Bureau of Fiscal Integrity is looking into the matter.  Anyone with information about the email or who is sending it, as well as anyone who receives the email is asked to call the Department’s Consumer Helpline at 1-850-413-3089 or 1-877-My-FL-CFO (1-877-693-5236).


DFS’ Division of Insurance Fraud congratulates Detective Carolina Varon on her accomplishments

In 1999, Carolina Varon left her native Colombia and came to the United States to live the American dream.  With the wish to be a sworn law enforcement officer but not having any experience, Carolina decided to apply for a job as an administrative assistant with the Department of Financial Services’ Division of Insurance Fraud in West Palm Beach.

Under the leadership of Lieutenant Vance Akins, Carolina worked as an administrative assistant and proved she was capable of doing much more.  Only ten months later, she applied and was selected for a Crime Intelligence Analyst (CIA) position, and over the next few years, she was promoted to a CIA II then a CIA Supervisor. While proving her competence and exceeding expectations from her supervisors, Carolina learned that Colonel Vicki Cutcliffe was giving employees the opportunity to advance within the agency through a detective trainee program -- to no surprise, Carolina applied for and was offered a detective trainee position.

Carolina attended the Basic Law Enforcement Academy and received her Standards & Training certificate on May 21, 2009, during the academy graduation.  A few weeks later, after passing the grueling State Law Enforcement Exam, she obtained her sworn status with Division of Insurance Fraud.

When asked why she wanted to be in law enforcement, Carolina stated, “I am a person with passion and commitment for justice, for fairness, to do the right thing and to be a part of a good team.  It is not just a job for me; it is a way of life.” She credits her success to her uncompromising determination and to Colonel Vicki Cutcliffe, Captain Simon Blank, Lieutenant Vance Akins and Senior Management Analyst Supervisor Cheri Krall.

Just eight days after Detective Varon was sworn in to the Division of Insurance Fraud, she assisted in an arrest of three individuals providing false identification in support of the their employment, a violation of FS 440.  Detective Varon also played a vital role in the arrests by serving as a translator that ultimately lead to the confession of utilizing fraudulent documentation.

The Division of Insurance Fraud congratulates Detective Varon on her exceptional accomplishments and determination in following her dream.


Hurricane Checklist: How to file a claim

You may feel that filing a claim is a daunting task; however, the following tips can make the process easier and may help you get your claim paid faster.

By following these tips, and keeping this checklist with the important papers you will take with you if you need to evacuate, your claim can be reviewed and processed in very little time. The more documentation you provide, the better.

For more information on issues to consider when filing or settling a claim, visit http://www.myfloridacfo.com/Consumers/Storm/index.htm. Find out when a Hurricane Preparedness event will be in your area on our calendar linked here. Check back with us next week for more ideas.


State Fire Marshal representatives attend Florida Fire Chiefs Association Annual Meeting & Executive Development Conference

State Fire Marshal Division Director Julius Halas, Deputy Director Jeff Merritt, Bureau Chief Barry Baker and Florida State Fire College staff attended and presented at the Florida Fire Chiefs Association Annual Meeting & Executive Development Conference this week. The conference held a full agenda, hosting a number of interesting topics such as new vehicle technology, responder safety, hazardous materials, search and rescue tactics, domestic security, hurricane preparedness and much more. Topics discussed on the executive level included the Fire Chief’s Role in Tough Times, Generations in the Workplace and Florida Public Pension System. Bureau Chief Barry Baker, along with his staff from the Florida State Fire College, conducted a half-day presentation on “What Every Fire Chief Needs to Know about Fire Services, Laws, Rules and Policies.” Attendees at the conference generally include fire chiefs, assistant fire chiefs, deputy fire chiefs, fire marshals, and other partnering fire services.

State Fire Marshall Director Halas served as past president in 2001 and Bureau Chief Barry Baker is currently serving as the immediate past president for the association.


Deputy CFO Brian London Addresses Florida Sheriffs Association

This week, Deputy CFO Brian London spoke to the Florida Sheriffs Association at their summer conference on behalf of State Fire Marshal Sink. The Florida Sheriffs Association is the largest Sheriff’s association in the country and is also Florida’s oldest law enforcement organization; for more than 100 years, the group has performed services that support Florida’s law enforcement community.

In his remarks, Deputy London spoke about the number of ways that the Department of Financial Services assists law enforcement efforts in each of Florida’s 67 counties. The department has two law enforcement agencies and approximately 300 sworn law enforcement officers, and the success of the department is largely dependent on collaboration with city and county law enforcement officials. This mutual support and assistance strengthens the fight against crime and also helps law enforcement officers meet ever-increasing demands.


Upcoming DFS events around the state

SOS EVENT IN GULFPORT ON WEDNESDAY

The Department of Financial Services in partnership with the City of Gulfport will be hosting a Safeguard Our Seniors (SOS) event to talk about annuity fraud and how seniors can protect themselves from becoming a victim.

This SOS event will be held Wednesday, July 29, 2009, at the Gulfport Multipurpose Senior Center, 5501 27th Ave. South, Gulfport, from 1-4 p.m.

View a calendar of upcoming events or call the Consumer Helpline for more information at (850) 413-3089 or 877-MY-FL-CFO (693-5236).

HURRICANE DISASTER PROGRAM SCHEDULED IN PALM COAST

Florida CFO Alex Sink’s Department of Financial Services is continuing to educate the public on disaster preparation by holding a hurricane preparedness event in Palm Coast next Friday, July 31. Presentations will be given on a variety of disaster-related topics, including ensuring that your family is financially prepared for a disaster, how hurricanes develop, and the disaster services provided by local authorities. The event will take place at the Palm Coast Community Center from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m.

For more information on how you can your family can be better prepared in the event of a hurricane or natural disaster, please go to www.MyFloridaCFO.com or call (850) 413-3089 or 877-MY-FL-CFO (693-5236).


My Family CFO

Are you the chief financial officer of your family? Are you always looking out for the best deals, wise investments and smart moves for your family's financial security?

As your family's fiscal watch dog, keep an eye on this column for money-smart ideas from the Chief Financial Officer of Florida, Alex Sink.

If you have a creative way to be fiscally smart, share it with us for this column!

MyFamilyCFO@MyFloridaCFO.com

Idea: Shop Now for Back-to-School Deals

This year, Florida will not have a tax-free shopping period for back-to-school supplies; however, smart shoppers can still find ways to save with these techniques.

Reuse. If last year’s backpack and lunch box are still in good shape, use them again this year; or, use them until supplies are marked down after the school year begins, and then opt to replace if necessary.

Consider layaway. It’s much easier on your bank account to put something on layaway and pay it off in increments than it is to do one big shopping day for everything.

Prioritize. Some supplies, like pencils and folders, are essential starting with the first day of school. However, a back-to-school wardrobe can generally be postponed, especially considering Florida’s warm climate. Also, chances are that further into fall, better deals will be available for cool-weather coats and sweaters.

Shop often. What’s on sale one week isn’t on sale the next, so it’s important to consistently check out retailers for when they have sales. Just be wary of impulse purchases! (see below)

Bring a list and avoid impulse purchases. While scented markers, glittery stickers and other glitzy supplies look like a lot of fun, they are not mandatory – and cost-wise, they can add up quickly! To avoid the allure of impulsive purchases, bring a list and stick to it.

Optimize online discounts. A simple Google search of “school supply coupons” can oftentimes pull up a 10 or 15% coupon for your favorite store. Also, college students can sign up for email alerts from major bookstore retailers for deals, and can generally find almost any required book in used condition on discount Web sites for greater savings than what’s offered at the campus bookstore.

Buy in bulk. Instead of buying a couple of packs of pens, pencils and folders, consider going to a wholesale store like Costco or Sam’s Club and buying in bulk. If you have multiple kids to shop for, this is a great option, or even if you have just one youngster headed to class, extra supplies can be stored and then used throughout the school year.


SAVING ENERGY, SAVING MONEY
Energy tips for Florida families - these actions represent ways to behave kindly toward Mother Earth, AND save money as well as energy. These tips are presented by CFO Alex Sink's science advisor Meg Lowman, Ph.D., on the faculty at New College of Florida. Dr. Lowman has written numerous award-winning books and is an expert on the rainforests of the world.

Make your dishwasher work more efficiently

Most people use mechanical dishwashers these days, love them and appreciate the work they do. But did you know you most likely could make your dishwasher work more efficiently? Here is a list of recommendations you may want to implement to ensure you get the greatest use and efficiency from your dishwasher

One of the easiest to implement is to use energy saver option on your dishwasher, allowing dishes to air dry. Once the dishwasher has finished its cycle, open the door to speed up the air-drying process.

Second, make sure that you don’t overload your dishwasher. All of the arms need to be free flowing and the jets of water need to be able to reach all of the dishes. This will allow the water to circulate and distribute evenly. Be sure to scrape all of the dishes and rinse excess food to prevent the jets from becoming blocked.

Third, at regular intervals, clean the drains by sliding out the bottom tray and reaching in to take out any food or paper by hand. A clogged drain will keep your dishwasher from cleaning well, and debris can fly back up, making your dishes dirtier and unsanitary.

Fourth, occasionally run the dishwasher empty with a cup of bleach or vinegar thrown into it. This will kill mold that might be growing in it, keeping it from efficiently cleaning and sanitizing your dishes.

Fifth, check for leaks in the door frame. If you notice damaged gaskets, remove them by unscrewing them and taking a piece into the hardware store. Contact the manufacturer if the hardware store does not carry your gasket. Soak the gasket in hot water to add flexibility and then install the new gasket.

With all these tips, you can enjoy many years of clean dishes knowing you have done everything to keep your dishwasher running as efficiently as possible.