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Defendants in $580,000 Jua Theft Plead Guilty

1/12/2001

TALLAHASSEE – Three women have pleaded guilty and been sentenced for their roles in the theft of more than $580,000 from the state's homeowners' insurance pool known as the Residential Joint Underwriting Association, or JUA, Florida Treasurer and Insurance Commissioner Tom Gallagher announced today.

Linda Reynolds, 45, of Lake Mary, a former litigation supervisor for Sewell, Todd, Broxton, and her sister, Deborah Cochran, 40, a registered nurse from Lake Park, pleaded guilty Wednesday to insurance fraud, grand theft and communications fraud. Each was sentenced to 10 years probation and six months of community control. They also are required to pay back the $580,653 as well as $3,400 in investigative costs.

Reynolds' daughter-in-law, Merrie Jo Reynolds, 32, of Altamonte Springs, a former clerical supervisor for Sewell, Todd, Broxton pleaded guilty in December to communications fraud and was sentenced to 18 months probation and to pay $1,667 in investigative costs.

The Winter Park firm of Sewell, Todd, Broxton was contracted to adjust and manage claims for the JUA, which provides residential property insurance coverage for residents who are unable to buy it in the regular market.

The women's scheme began with a legitimate claim filed in September 1995 for a child whose leg was broken when she was run over by a golf cart owned by a JUA policyholder. The agency subcontracted the claim out to Sewell, Todd, Broxton, where it was assigned to Linda Reynolds as the firm's litigation supervisor.

Beginning in December 1996, while the claim was in litigation, 23 checks totaling more than $54,670 were written to Reynolds' sister, Cochran, the registered nurse, for medical services that were never performed, fraud investigators said. Then in April 1997, the investigators said, the claim file was altered to replace the name of the rightful claimant with that of Deborah Cochran.

Even though the original claim was settled for $17,500 in July 1997, 153 more checks totaling $525,983 allegedly were issued to Cochran during the following two-and-a-half years.

The investigation was conducted by the Public Employee Fraud Unit within the insurance department's Division of Insurance Fraud. The prosecution was handled by the Office of Statewide Prosecution.