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State Hires Prosecutor to Help Drive down PIP Fraud

4/14/2004

CONTACT: Tami Torres or Nina Banister, DFS
(850) 413-2842
Ed Griffith, Miami-Dade SAO
(305) 547-0535

TALLAHASSEE-Florida's Chief Financial Officer and Miami-Dade's top prosecutor are teaming up to combat auto insurance fraud, which costs Florida families as much as $250 annually. CFO Tom Gallagher, who oversees the Department of Financial Services, and Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle today announced the hiring of a prosecutor who will be dedicated to prosecuting personal injury protection (PIP) fraud cases.

Nina Vivenzio formerly served as an assistant chief in the Career Criminal/Robbery Division of the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office. She will be introduced Thursday in Miami to the board of directors of the Florida Automobile Joint Underwriting Association, who is helping to fund the prosecutor position. Gallagher will speak to the FAJUA, the state's insurer of last resort for consumers unable to find coverage in the private market, about the economic impact of PIP fraud and the need for greater public education efforts.

"Education must be used in tandem with law enforcement," said Gallagher, noting that the Legislature last year passed its toughest anti-PIP fraud law yet-a mandatory minimum two-year sentence for convictions for solicitation with intent to defraud and staging an auto collision. "In the past two years since the Legislature's first round of PIP legislation reforms, we've learned that these perpetrators are intent on maintaining their illegal source of income."


Vivenzio stepped into her new role last month. She will be based in Miami, where the Department of Financial Services' Division of Insurance Fraud has made nearly 600 PIP fraud arrests since 1999. That represents nearly 60 percent of all insurance fraud arrests in that region.


"A dedicated, full-time prosecutor is needed to stem the increasing tide of PIP fraud schemes," said Fernandez Rundle." We're sending a message to unscrupulous doctors, lawyers, clinic owners and phony accident victims that Florida intends to get them off the streets."

In her previous position, Vivenzio was one of the assistant chiefs responsible for the supervision of the prosecution of all career criminal cases in the State Attorney's Office. She has extensive experience in dealing with multi-defendant, complex schemes.

"Scam artists seeking to profit by falsifying PIP claims should know that this new prosecutor is on board and eager to prosecute fraud offenders," said Eli Feinberg, chairman of the FAJUA board of directors. "This is a vital step toward a healthier auto insurance market."

According to surveys by the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud, it is estimated that auto insurance fraud, particularly the fast-growing problem of PIP fraud, costs Florida's economy more than $1.1 billion a year in higher premiums and higher costs for goods and services. Florida law requires drivers to carry a minimum of $10,000 in PIP coverage and $10,000 in property damage liability coverage. PIP coverage provides up to $10,000 per victim for medical bills, regardless of who is at fault.

PIP benefits are increasingly targeted by unscrupulous doctors, clinic owners, chiropractors and attorneys who bill insurance companies for services and procedures that are unnecessary or were never provided. Actual accident victims are sometimes solicited, but just as often crashes are staged for the purpose of generating claims. Since 1999, state fraud investigators have arrested 370 phony accident "victims."

Over the past several years, the Florida Legislature has put in place a number of reforms aimed at reducing PIP fraud. In 2002, fee schedules were established for common procedures, such as MRIs, that have been exploited by PIP fraud perpetrators. The Legislature also restricted the release of police accident reports and extended the time available to insurance companies to investigate suspicious claims. Last year, legislators approved a mandatory two-year prison sentence for those convicted of organizing or participating in staged auto collisions.

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. To report insurance fraud, 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 an arrest and conviction.