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Department of Financial Services Files Charges against 15 Agents for Unlicensed Insurance Sales

4/30/2003

TALLAHASSEE – The Department of Financial Services filed Administrative Complaints this week against 15 Florida insurance agents accusing them of selling policies for unlicensed entities, and is conducting unannounced compliance examinations today at agent offices in Pensacola, Jacksonville, Orlando, Tampa, Ft. Lauderdale and Miami.

As the Department of Financial Services continues to take action against agents and marketers selling unlicensed insurance in Florida, consumers and agents visiting the department's web site at www.fldfs.com now can look at a new page, "Verify Before You Buy," for tips and information they can use to protect themselves from this kind of fraud.

"By checking to make sure they are dealing with a licensed company, consumers can protect themselves from the financial devastation others have suffered," said Florida's Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher, who oversees the Department of Financial Services. "Our goal is to take the swiftest action possible against these scam operators. We will not tolerate the selling of false security to Floridians."

Tens of thousands of Floridians have been left with unpaid claims as a result of buying insurance from 10 unlicensed entities shut down in the past two years. The department has been conducting a statewide public education campaign for more than a year that warns consumers to "Verify Before You Buy." The phony coverage sold so far has been for health and medical malpractice, although the department warns these operators could be moving into other areas.

The Administrative Complaints issued this week charge agents throughout Florida who sold policies for various unlicensed entities already shut down by the department, including Physicians Exchange, Employers Mutual L.L.C., Vanguarde Asset Group and TRG Marketing Group, whose principals were arrested earlier this month on felony charges of transacting insurance without a license in Florida. More than 50 agents around Florida are now facing disciplinary action against their licenses for selling bogus policies.


A bill sponsored by Sen. Bill Posey, R-Rockledge, could be approved as early as today in the Senate and, if passed by the House, would increase criminal penalties for individuals who operate an unlicensed insurance entity. Under Sen. Posey's bill, dubbed "the Pete Orr Bill," those who peddle their products in Florida would face a first-, second-, or third-degree felony charge of insurance fraud based on the amount of premiums collected. The bill is named after a former NASCAR-circuit driver, Pete Orr, who died of cancer last year as TRG refused to pay any of his health care bills, which totaled more than $250,000. Rep. Gus Billirakis, R-Palm Harbor, is sponsor of the bill in the House.

The 2002 Legislature passed a law increasing the penalty for a licensed agent selling unlicensed insurance from a first-degree misdemeanor to a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison. Under Florida law, if an unlicensed insurer fails to pay claims, agents who sold the unlicensed coverage may be held responsible for unpaid claims.

Consumers and agents will be able to use the new page on the department's web site to make sure a company is licensed in Florida, file a complaint or find tips on how to avoid possible unlicensed activity. In addition, information is available on entities that have been shut down for selling unlicensed insurance in Florida and the names of agents who have had administrative charges filed against them for selling bogus insurance policies. Agents can also find courses and information on unlicensed insurance.

Because these entities are not licensed in Florida, there are no assurances of their ability to pay claims. Kevin McCarty, Director of the Office of Insurance Regulation, is continuing to investigate reports of unlicensed entity operations in Florida.

In addition to the web site, consumers can also still call the Department of Financial Services' Helpline at 1-800-342-2762 to verify licensure of any insurance company or agent. The Helpline is available Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Following is a list of those agents who had an Administrative Complaint filed against them on Tuesday. Visit www.fldfs.com and click "Verify Before You Buy" to see the orders or for a list of other agents who have had an Administrative Complaint filed against them for selling unlicensed insurance in Florida.

Jerry Henry Agtmaal, Boynton Beach
Stephen Blackford, Jacksonville
Earl Grant Darbyson, Lake Park
Lillian Beth Gore, Boca Raton
Lenny Gerard Greenstein, Sunrise
Edward Michael Farley, Palm City
Alan R. Firpo, Royal Palm Beach
Bruce Warren Fletcher, Coral Springs
Michael Warnock Houston, Boca Raton
Steven Jeffrey Marx, Cooper City
Ernest William Norman, Stuart
Carole Anne Pelletier, Bradenton
Earnest Dan Skipper, Lakeland
James Ulchinsky, Punta Gorda
Daryl Brian Williams, Orlando