News Release: Associated Press News
By CURT ANDERSON
MIAMI (AP) -- Authorities say 22 people have been charged in a major home insurance fraud ring operating in South Florida.
Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle and state Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater said Tuesday losses from the fraud are estimated at $7.6 million. The fraud usually involved staged fires or floods at homes owned by people who were recruited by the fraud ringleaders.
Rundle says the organization staged at least 17 fake home damage incidents. The ring was allegedly led by a Miami public adjuster, who is licensed to represent insurance policyholders making claims. The adjuster purportedly took up to 30 percent of the claim paid by the insurer.
The adjuster and his wife are charged under Florida racketeering laws that carry a maximum 30-year prison sentence.
News Release: Jeff Atwater's Office
TALLAHASSEE - CFO Jeff Atwater today announced the arrests of 14 individuals following a joint investigation between the State Fire Marshal’s Office and the Miami-Dade Police Department’s Arson Unit. “Operation Flames and Floods,” as it was termed upon its inception in November 2012, exposed an extensive scheme to defraud several insurance companies by staging fire and water damage claims to residential homes in Miami-Dade County, Lehigh Acres and Naples. The losses exceeded several million dollars after 13 homes were set on fire and five more reported extensive water damage.
“These devious acts of fraud hurt all Floridians by driving up the cost of insurance, which takes money out of the pockets of hard-working, law-abiding Floridians,” said CFO Jeff Atwater. “I am extremely proud of the work of our State Fire Marshall’s Office, and I am thankful for the support of the Miami-Dade Police Department’s Arson Unit and Miami-Dade County State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle for helping us bring these individuals to justice.”
Public adjuster Jorge Fausto Espinosa Sr. was arrested prior to today during the operation’s initial phase as a result of a federal indictment. The remaining arrests occurred this morning and afternoon. A second public adjustor and a plumber were also among the people arrested for allegedly instructing homeowners about how to file fraudulent insurance claims. The 13 cases of arson were staged to resemble electrical, kitchen and vehicle-related fires occurring within the home or garage, while those involving water damage blamed flooding on water supply lines or clogged sewer lines.
Upon their arrest, the following individuals were transported to Miami-Dade County Jail:
As a result of the fraud, the following insurance carriers paid out more than $7.6 million in reported losses: American Integrity Insurance Company, American Bankers Insurance Company, Citizens Property Insurance Corporation, Northern Capital Insurance Company, Northern Point Insurance, Gulf Stream Property & Casualty, Southern Oak Insurance Company, State Farm, and Universal Property & Casualty. These cases are being prosecuted by Miami-Dade County State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle.
“Through insurance fraud, scammers reach into the wallets of every Floridian, every day,” said Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle. “I and my prosecutors are proud to be working with such dedicated professionals as the members of the State Fire Marshall’s Office and the Miami-Dade Police Department’s Arson Unit in the battle to end this crime.”
Anyone with information of suspected insurance fraud is asked to call 1-800-378-0445. Citizens who provide tips can remain anonymous. The Department of Financial Services to date has awarded nearly $350,000 as part of its Anti-Fraud Reward Program. The program rewards individuals up to $25,000 for information that directly leads to an arrest and conviction in an insurance fraud scheme.