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5 posts from May 22, 2013

May 22, 2013

Despite hundreds of insurance violations, president of upstart company could get $52 million deal from Citizens

Before launching an upstart insurance firm and donating $110,000 to Gov. Rick Scott’s campaign, the president of Heritage Property and Casualty Corp. repeatedly ran into trouble with Florida’s insurance regulators at previous companies he led. 

Now, one of those insurance regulators is Heritage’s chief lobbyist, and the St. Petersburg company might receive up to $52 million in a special deal with Citizens Property Insurance Corp.

Richard Widdicombe has run a handful of insurance companies in Florida in recent years, and at least two of them were cited for dozens of violations, ranging from “failure to pay claim timely” to “failure to comply with unfair trade practice requirements to making “misleading” advertisements.

Widdicombe, who declined to comment, was president of both Federated National Insurance Company and People’s Trust Insurance Company between 2001 and 2009. Both firms were cited several times by the Insurance Commissioner for violations. 

At Federated National, Widdicombe’s company was knocked by regulators in 2001 for a number of violations. Among them:

-Failing to return premium to consumers in a timely manner after cancelling an insurance policy.
-Using unlicensed insurance adjusters
-Failing to communicate with homeowners making claims and failing to pay claims in a timely manner. 

The company also had a high rate of complaints for its handling of Hurricane Charley claims in 2004, with one in five claimants complaining about service from Federated. 

The 2001 consent order was signed by then-Insurance Commissioner Tom Gallagher. Gallagher now works as a lobbyist for Widdicombe’s Heritage, which has spent between $60,000 aand $110,000 on lobbying Florida’s government in recent months. Heritage could reap a $52 million cash windfall if Citizens’ board of governor’s approves a special deal to transfer 60,000 policies to the firm, which was created only nine months ago. 

Scott’s office put out a statement saying that the $110,000 donation to the governor had nothing to do with the proposed $52 million deal. 

UPDATE 2:27pm: A spokesperson for Widdicombe provided the following statement about Federated

"The violations were relatively minor and had a small fine of $3,700.  These violations took place before Rich joined Federated, which was in Dec. of 1999.  They were corrected under his leadership, but the issues predate his employment with Federated National."

Continue reading "Despite hundreds of insurance violations, president of upstart company could get $52 million deal from Citizens" »

Pam Bondi and 22 AGs to Urban Outfitters: stop 'undermining' war on RX abuse


UrbanFlorida Attorney General Pam Bondi and 22 other attorneys general accused Urban Outfitters on Wednesday of "undermining" nationwide efforts to fight pharmaceutical-drug abuse because the store sells a line of drinking novelties that mimic prescription-pill bottles, boxes, pads and syringes.

"These products are not in any way fun or humorous but make light of this rampant problem," the group wrote in a letter addressed to the company's CEO and chairman, Richard A. Hayne. "We invite you to pull these products from your shelves and join with us to fight prescription drug abuse."

Hayne and Urban Outfitter's media-relations department did not immediately respond to an email for comment. A customer-service representative said the store's media-relations department does not have a phone number.

Earlier this month, the company didn't respond to ABC News and FOX when they reported complaints from the Partnership at Drugfree.org, which accused the retailer of making light of drug abuse. So did lawmakers in Kentucky.

The store, known for selling edgy products from time to time, has an entire "Prescription Line" of drinking accoutrements that look like prescription-pill bottles, boxes and pads. It sells “Rx pint glasses” and “syringe shot shooters.” 

A beer koozie, for instance, looks like a pill bottle prescribed by "Dr. Harold Feelgood" to "Mr. Hugh Jass."

"TAKE ONE CAN BY MOUTH, REPEAT UNTIL INTOXICATED," the bottle reads. Another item, a flask that looks like the mock prescription "BOOZEMIN," bears the name of "Dr. Koholic, Al."

Bondi, in a brief discussion with The Miami Herald, underscored the fact that neither she or her colleagues are threatening legal action against the Philadelphia-based chain. They just believe the so-called "Prescription Line" of glasses, coasters, mugs and drink holders goes too far.

"It's in poor taste," Bondi said.

> "Profiting from an ad campaign that is contrary to Florida's efforts to combat prescription drug overdoses and drinking is unacceptable," she said in a follow-up statement. "We are calling on Urban Outfitters to forgo a few sales and help us save a lot of lives."

Since winning office in 2010, Bondi has crusaded against prescription-drug abuse. She championed legislation to fight so-called "pill mills" where shady doctors overprescribe drugs -- particularly opiates such as OxyContin.

The effort to ask Urban Outfitters to remove its "Prescription Line" of goods spans the nation and the political spectrum, from the Republican Bondi in Florida to Democrat Kamala Harris in California to the attorneys general in Guam and Hawaii.

"We are actively engaged in a campaign of environmental change to educate the public that abuse of prescription drugs is not safe simply because the medication originated from a doctor," their letter said.

"By putting these highly recognizable labels on your products you are undermining our efforts."

Here's the letter's text:

Continue reading "Pam Bondi and 22 AGs to Urban Outfitters: stop 'undermining' war on RX abuse " »

When Barack retweeted Jeb: bipartisan immigration-reform effort goes coast to coast


JebarackPresident Barack Obama, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice all agree: Immigration reform is a must.

"Delaying solutions will only make the problem grow. NOW is the time for immigration reform. Join the #iMarch at http://bit.ly/13KCBor," Bush Tweeted this morning.

The president gave him a retweet.

It's all part of a major bipartisan effort to keep bipartisan immigration reform on track in Congress. A segment of the conservative electorate and the conservative opinion elite, however, want to kill it.

Here's the start of the group's press release:

The Partnership for a New American Economy, Organizing for Action (OFA), and Republicans for Immigration Reform today kicked off the March for Innovation (#iMarch), the largest-ever virtual march on Washington in support of bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform. The March, a two-day event that will end Thursday night, brings together leaders from politics, business, tech, sports, media, and entertainment to create a digital storm across an array of social media to back bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform legislation. (Full list of leaders below.)

Beginning at 8:30 this morning with a Twitter Town Hall led by Mayor Michael Bloomberg that will include Jeb Bush, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and Condoleezza Rice – just a day after the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” immigration bill passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee – top #iMarch supporters will take part in a pass-the-baton style event that will feature a number of online venues and digital tools including Huffington Post Live, Google Hangout, Thunderclap, Twitter Town Halls, Facebook, Reddit, Vine, and others. All of this activity will help drive thousands and thousands of supporters to www.MarchForInnovation.com where they will be able to use social media and digital call tools to urge their elected officials in Washington to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

Download March For Innovation Release (May 22, 2013)

Miccosukee Tribe's tax troubles continue with $170 million lien

From MH's Jay Weaver:

The Internal Revenue Service has slammed the Miccosukee Indians with a bill of $170 million for the West Miami-Dade tribe’s failure to report and withhold taxes from its distribution of gambling profits to tribal members, according to court records.

In a long-running battle, the IRS also has smacked hundreds of the tribe’s members with separate bills totaling $58 million for their failure to pay personal income taxes on those distributions during the same period, 2000 to 2005, records show.

The agency’s crackdown comes after years of fighting with the 600-member tribe over its refusal to pay taxes on the distribution of profits from its casino operation off the Tamiami Trail. The assessments for back taxes, interest and penalties, outlined in federal tax lien notices filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, reveal for the first time the sheer scope of the tribe’s tax problems with the IRS.

Without the extras, the tribe’s withholding taxes alone for 2000 to 2005 totaled $45 million, and individual members’ taxes amounted to $30 million for that period, according to the tax liens. More here.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/05/21/v-fullstory/3409409/irs-slams-miccosukee-indians-with.html#storylink=cpy

One illegal immigrant's strange almost-pathway to citizenship


Rene Rivas was about to be deported in the dark of night, at 4 a.m.

But that was last week.

Seven days later, on Monday, the undocumented immigrant was released from an immigration lock-up and allowed to work legally and live openly with his wife and children in Miami for a year.

The roller-coaster story of this 41-year-old construction worker from Durango, Mexico, is anything but common as Congress debates how to handle undocumented immigrants like Rivas.

“It’s rare,” said Rivas’ attorney, Elizabeth Amaran. “But it does happen.”

An essential ingredient: the involvement of U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson.

Continue reading "One illegal immigrant's strange almost-pathway to citizenship " »