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Two South Florida Businessmen Face Insurance Charges

12/17/2003

CONTACT: Nina Banister
(850) 413-2842

TALLAHASSEE – An Okeechobee construction company owner is facing fraud charges for under-reporting employee payroll to avoid thousands of dollars in leasing fees and workers' compensation premiums, and a Port St. Lucie bar is charged with failing to secure any workers' compensation coverage which was determined after an employee was injured. Both arrests occurred Friday following investigations by the Department of Financial Services, Division of Insurance Fraud.

Christopher Close, 37, owner of Close Contruction Inc. in Okeechobee, surrendered and was booked into the Okeechobee County Jail. He is charged with two counts of insurance fraud, both third-degree felonies. If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison on each charge in addition to fines.

Also Friday, Ronald A. Carabbia, 40, owner of Body Talk Sports Bar at 8259 S. Federal Highway in Port St. Lucie, surrendered and was booked into the St. Lucie County Jail on one count of failing to secure workers' compensation coverage for employees of RWM Investments, Inc., D/B/A Body Talk Sports Bar. Carabbia faces up to five years in prison in addition to fines.

"Employers who avoid paying premiums contribute to the rise in workers' compensation rates and gain an unfair advantage over competitors," Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher said. As CFO, Gallagher oversees the Department of Financial Services and the Division of Insurance Fraud. "We will continue to aggressively investigate instances of fraud and abuse of the workers' compensation system."

Investigators said Close avoided $24,155.49 in leasing fees, including $3,898.24 in worker's compensation premiums, between May and July of 2002 by issuing employees two paychecks per pay period. A check for the first 40 hours of the pay period was issued by South East Personnel Leasing, Inc., with taxes and workers' compensation premiums paid on that check. A second check was issued by Close Construction, Inc., for overtime, and no worker's compensation premiums were paid on those checks issued from Close.

The investigation of Carabbia began after a bartender reportedly suffered a hernia in May while lifting a case of beer while on the job at Body Talk Sports Bar. The employee immediately sought medical treatment and later discovered the bar had no workers' compensation coverage for employees. The department's Division of Workers' Compensation assisted with the investigation.

The Department of Financial Services, Division of Insurance Fraud, investigates various forms of fraud in insurance, including health, life, auto, property and workers' compensation insurance. Anyone with information about possible insurance fraud should call the department's Fraud Hotline at 1-800-378-0445. A reward of up to $25,000 may be offered for information leading to a conviction.