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Gallagher Announces Arrests for Auto ‘ditching’


Nina Banister

Cases result in more than $120,000 in fraudulent insurance claims
WEST PALM BEACH —Florida's Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher announced today that detectives with the Department of Financial Services' Division of Insurance Fraud (DIF), working with the Palm Beach County Multi-Agency Auto Theft Task Force, assisted in the arrests of eight individuals accused of "ditching" their vehicles and claiming them stolen in order to collect more than $120,000 in auto insurance benefits.
            The hitch:  they "ditched" the vehicles by selling them to undercover officers.  In the past fiscal year, DIF has arrested 20 south Florida residents for similar offenses.  Auto insurance fraud is estimated to cost the average Florida family as much as $240 a year.
"Floridians will not tolerate footing the bill for this kind of fraud," said Gallagher, who oversees the department.  "We will continue to work aggressively to uncover these schemes and bring these offenders to justice, and we are proud to partner with the Palm Beach County Multi-Agency Auto Theft Task Force."
Ditching, also referred to as an owner give-up, occurs when the owner is unhappy with the vehicle or can no longer keep up with payments and either pays someone to get rid of the car, as these suspects are accused of doing, or gets rid of it by dumping or burning the vehicle.
The Palm Beach County Multi-Agency Auto Theft Task Force was formed in June 1997, and is comprised of the Division of Insurance Fraud, Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office, Palm Beach Gardens Police Department, Riviera Beach Police Department, West Palm Beach Police Department, Boca Raton Police Department, Delray Beach Police Department, Lantana Police Department, Atlantis Police Department, Florida Highway Patrol, State Attorney's Office, National Insurance Crime Bureau,  Lo Jack and Progressive Insurance. The Federal Bureau of Investigation also assisted in these recent arrests.
The objectives of the task force are to recover stolen vehicles and prevent further theft through proactive investigations.  Since its inception the task force has made more than 1,400 arrests and recovered more than $34 million worth of vehicles and parts.  DIF investigates fraud in all lines of insurance, including health, life, auto, property and workers' compensation insurance.
The arrests were made over the last few months.  Members of the task force made four additional arrests for odometer fraud.
Those arrests that DIF participated in were:
Eric G. Lopez, 40, 432 Forest Hill Blvd., West Palm Beach – one count of organized scheme to defraud, seven counts of grand theft over $20,000, and three counts of grand theft over $10,000.
Roberto Lazaro Hernandez, 37, Miami-Dade County – insurance fraud and grand theft.
Adrian Diego Beliveau, 29, Miami-Dade County – insurance fraud.
Jennifer Munoz, 30, Miami-Dade County – insurance fraud.
Dennis Mercer, 40, Palm Beach County – insurance fraud.
Andrew Kirschenbaum, 33, Palm Beach County – insurance fraud.
Jesse McGay, 28, Palm Beach County – insurance fraud.
Oveido Piedra, 21, Broward County – insurance fraud.
Anyone with information about these cases or other possible fraud schemes should call the Department of Financial Services' 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.
As a statewide elected officer of the Florida Cabinet, Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher oversees the Department of Financial Services, a multi-division state agency responsible for management of state funds and unclaimed property, assisting consumers who request information and help related to financial services, and investigating financial fraud. Gallagher also serves as the State Fire Marshal.