Couple Accused of Filing Bogus Claims for Unclaimed Property

June 24, 2015
By Julie Montanaro

A couple is accused of trying to steal nearly three quarters of a million dollars from the state's unclaimed property vault.

There are millions in jewels, watches coins and currency in this heavily guarded vault in Tallahassee.

More than a billion dollars worth of property waiting to be claimed by its rightful owners.

Thomas Penquite and Maria Guiterrez now stand accused of trying to claim more than 733-thousand dollars from accounts that weren't theirs.

"We were able to stop these in the investigative stage and no money left the building headed to the wrong individuals," said Rick Sweet with the Department of Financial Services.

According to arrest papers the duo re-activated three defunct corporations and promptly started making claims.

That was the first red flag and there were others.

"Addresses had been changed from central Florida to south Florida and also some of the officers that had been named in the corporations had been changed," Sweet said.

Arrest papers say the couple launched the scheme after researching public records to get personal information about corporate officers listed on the state's web site.

Pam Doffek - with FSU's School of Information - looked up the corporate documents on line. They're still there with Gutierrez's name on them.

"The public records were right there," she said. "Paperwork looked good, whether it was legal or illegal, whether they were fraudulent or not fraudulent."

Penquite is facing more than two dozen felonies. Gutierrez more than a dozen. They were arrested in Palm Beach County.

Sweet says this is the most money anyone has tried to steal from the vault.



PRESS RELEASE
June 23, 2015

CFO Atwater Announces the Arrest of Two West Palm Beach Residents for Attempting to Steal Nearly $750,000 in Unclaimed Property

6/23/2015

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater today announced the arrest Thomas Harry Penquite and Maria Lourdes Gutierrez, both of West Palm Beach, after an Office of Fiscal Integrity investigation discovered that the two allegedly concocted an elaborate scheme designed to steal more than $730,000 from the state of Florida’s unclaimed property program.

“The unclaimed property program works daily to reunite Floridians with what rightfully belongs to them, and I commend the efforts of our Office of Fiscal Integrity for rooting out this scheme to derail their hard work,” said CFO Atwater. “This pair’s attempt to steal from their fellow Floridians was brazen, but I’m proud to say we prevented a single penny from going out the door.”

Penquite, along with his accomplice Gutierrez, reinstated at least three separate inactive Florida corporations, which included Castle Construction & Development Co., Ditco Service Corp., and the Ferrer Network in order to fraudulently collect the corporations’ unclaimed assets.

The investigation revealed that Penquite and Gutierrez purchased public records associated with each of the corporations and used those records to submit fraudulent reinstatement paperwork with the Department of State. The two co-conspirators also secured UPS mailboxes registered to each of the corporations and created email addresses in an attempt to assume the identity of these closed companies.

Rigorous verification efforts conducted by the Department’s Bureau of Unclaimed Property identified suspicious information and prevented the payout of any funds.
Penquite and Gutierrez are charged with a combined total of 47 felonies. Their charges each include: Aggravated White Collar Crime, Grand Theft, Filing Invalid Unclaimed Property Claims, and the Fraudulent Use of Personal Identification Information, each a first degree felony.

The Office of Fiscal Integrity is responsible for statewide investigations of allegations of fraud, waste, or abuse involving state of Florida property and money. To report fraud, waste, or abuse of state resources, visit www.getleanflorida.com or contact the Office of Fiscal Integrity at 850-413-5514.

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