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Director of Unlicensed Insurance Entity Arrested

9/5/2003

CONTACT: Nina Banister
(850) 413-2842

PLANTATION -- The director of Hollywood-based Native Assurance Company has been charged with acting as an insurer without a certificate of authority. Native Assurance was ordered in June to cease its insurance operations, and in July the company lost a court challenge seeking federal protection as a Native American business.

Anthony Baratta was arrested late yesterday afternoon by investigators with the Department of Financial Services, Division of Insurance Fraud. He was booked into the Broward County Jail. If convicted, he could be sentenced to up to five years in prison. Acting as an insurer without a certificate of authority is a third-degree felony.

Since February 2001, more than 150 entities, marketing affiliates, insurance agents and other individuals have been ordered to stop transacting unlicensed insurance. Victims of unauthorized insurance entities often are left with unpaid claims, credit damage and difficulty finding replacement coverage. Because unauthorized insurance entities are not regulated, there are no assurances that they have adequate reserves to pay claims. They also do not participate in a guaranty fund that protects policyholders of authorized insurers.

Native Assurance had never sought state authority to transact insurance in Florida, and claimed to be exempt from state regulation because its president and sole officer, Chris Osceola, is a member of the Seminole Indian Tribe. The company argued that only the federal government could regulate businesses owned by Native Americans. The Seminole Tribe of Florida has said it has no connection with Native Assurance.

Judge Kenneth A. Marra, U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of Florida, issued a ruling dismissing Native Assurance's challenge, noting that the federal protection extends only to tribal activity, not individual or company activity, on a Native American reservation.

Native Assurance, with offices at 6333 North 39th St., was incorporated in April in the State of Florida. Investigators said that Native Assurance proceeded to solicit multiple insurance benefits including health, life and workers' compensation liability coverage, and used an interactive website to recruit customers and agents to sell their products. At least a dozen policies were sold.

The Department of Financial Services, Division of Insurance Fraud, was assisted in its investigation by the Seminole Department of Law Enforcement and the U.S. Postal Inspector's Office.

The department has conducted a statewide media campaign for more than a year urging Floridians to "Verify Before You Buy." Consumers can verify a company's licensure at www.fldfs.com or by calling the department's consumer helpline at 1-800-342-2762.