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Two Miami Title Agents Charged in Diversion of $6 Million

2/8/2002

TALLAHASSEE - Two Miami title insurance agents were arrested today on charges of conspiracy to commit racketeering and grand theft for diverting nearly $6 million in escrow funds.

Lynne Pretzfeld, 53, former co-owner of the now-closed Title Examiners, Inc., which was located at 9555 N. Kendall Dr., Suite 206, Miami, along with Cecilia L. Rodriguez, 41, who helped operate the agency, surrendered to investigators with the Department of Insurance, Division of Insurance Fraud. They were taken to the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center. If convicted, they each face up to 60 years in prison on the charges in addition to possible fines and restitution.

Pretzfeld, of 10281 S.W. 110th St., and Rodriguez, of 16277 S.W. 96th Terrace, are both licensed title agents, but face revocation of their licenses.

Department investigators said the agency's records showed that between March 15, 1993, and April 9, 1997, more than $5.9 million in trust funds were diverted or misappropriated using a variety of schemes. They said funds were being separately maintained in Title Examiners' escrow bank accounts, were misappropriated, temporarily or permanently diverted into personal bank accounts or business bank accounts that Pretzfeld or Rodriguez controlled, or were cashed.

Because some escrow funds received by the title agency from mortgage lenders were never disbursed on behalf of the borrowers, warranty deeds that were prepared by the title agency and publicly recorded contained the false claim that properties were free of all encumbrances.

Title Examiners also had the fiduciary duty to maintain and timely submit monthly bank reconciliations and escrow account bank statements to its title insurer, Stewart Title Guaranty Co. Instead, the title agency submitted fraudulent bank statements containing numerous altered figures and notations, and failed to disclose the existence of a secret account where escrow funds were deposited.