Assignment of Benefits—Regulate Drying Firms?

I’ve heard it said many times that when it comes to Assignment of Benefits… “Florida cannot regulate its’ way out of the crisis”.  

Regulation, after all, hasn’t stopped bad practices for those who are already regulated.  Roofers are one example.  Plumbers another–they’re regulated but still accept exorbitant kickbacks in the form of referral fees and are thus complicit in, and partially responsible for, the inflation of invoices from those paying the kickbacks.

Nor has regulation prevented invoice inflation or loss creation by “regulated” plumbers when they’re Teflon coated with AOB. To see how more and more bad plumbers use AOB to pad their purses view just two examples I happened across at the Broward county court house here.  For more on roofers see “AOB & Roofers?!

But here’s the issue.  Just because some regulated entities behave horribly doesn’t mean those behaving even worse don’t need regulation–especially water extractors.  They are the most ill-behaved of the bunch, in part, because they’re the only ones devoid of regulatory oversight–no laws, no rules, no standards of conduct.  So, like attorneys exploiting the one-way fee statute, they’ve got nothing to lose!

In unimaginable numbers, too many unregulated water extractors use AOB to: conspire to create losses, inflate virtually every invoice, pay huge kickbacks, publicly adjust without a license; and, do the street level recruiting for those restricted from doing so by government regulation–namely attorneys and public adjusters.

An exaggeration? These observations are not all mine. Some emanated from water extractors fed up with their competitors. One lamented to me that water extraction was “…the most corrupt business in Florida!”

Heck, for the past month I’ve exchanged emails with another drying firm seeking to distance itself from the “crooks”, in part, by removing AOB from its’ “work authorization” form.  I provided sample “Direction to Pay” language. They’ve made the change, I’m told, and similar to when the previous spokesman for FLARS (Florida Association of Restoration Specialists) renounced AOB (See “the Tipping Point is here! ) this firm, too, has now joined the other good guys.  

Some argue that “dryers” have “drying” standards from an organization called the Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification or IICRC. But IICRC has no rules for avoiding conflicts of interest. No standards of conduct or fair dealings.  It simply requires those it has certified to take CE courses–a training organization that teaches the principles of drying but, does not “enforce standards”.  (See Note #1 below)

Testimony before Robin Westcott’s ICA Claims Workshop was that a prime cause of abuse comes from water extractors who are also the plumber or worse, the renovation contractor that rebuilds after its’ sibling drying firm destroys the scene of the loss. Such relationships are wrong and can only be stopped by licensing and regulation. (See Note #2 below)

Consider the case of State 2 State vs. Florida Peninsula.  This plaintiff, a water extractor, sued to force payment of a $7,542.55 invoice.  During discovery it provided a “Daily Humidity Record” showing six visits to the home.  It also submitted a “Certificate of Completion” reluctantly signed by the homeowner.  And, according to 7th district County Judge, Stephen Zaccor, the invoice was inflated, the humidity records were fraudulent, and the certificate of completion was altered to remove homeowner comments that there was only one visit to her home instead of six.  The public adjuster advised the homeowner that “State 2 State” was at her home, in fact, had been waiting there “since 5:00PM”.  Not true.  The homeowner was there the entire time.

The judge said the plaintiff perpetrated a “Fraud On the Court”.  Unfortunately, labeling it fraud, and even dismissing the case because it is a fraud, doesn’t stop the fraud.  “State 2 State” and its’ attorney didn’t even bother to deny there was fraud, and yet…they are still out there doing whatever it is they do.  There’s no license to suspend or revoke.  And nothing to lose.  Worse, everyone still gets paid, including the plaintiff’s firm…Cohen & Battisti!

“Water Damage Sucks”.  That’s what the ad sent to me by an alert reader says as the bus it appears on cruises around Sunrise Florida. But, look closer. In essence, my subscriber believed this ad suborns insurance fraud. The woman pictured in the lower left states “My ice maker line burst” while she’s holding a sign that says “I got $35k to remodel”.  Translation: “If you want a new kitchen, break your ice maker and give us a call!”

(click to enlarge)

Dri Rite bus ad 2015-09-28

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now, some would argue that even for unregulated water extractors, word of mouth and public outrage over bad practices would surely have some impact–possibly even shut the worst offenders down.

NOT IN FLORIDA–Consider the nefarious activities of this woman.

Angelica Sigler - Arrest PhotoAngelica Sigler is a career insurance fraudster last arrested September, 2015 and charged with one count of Organized Fraud, a second degree felony, and 34 counts of Grand Theft, a 3rd degree felony.

The money she stole while merely opening the mail, almost ruined the lives of those at the insurance agency trying to give her a fresh start.  She paid them back by stealing 191 premium checks totaling $106,369.25 and depositing them into a criminal enterprise called Rainbow 21, LLC.

But, here’s the rub. She was arrested while on probation for years of insurance frauds committed while operating, now get this…five separate water extraction firms.

That’s right…FIVE!  Five firms inflating costs, creating losses, ripping off consumers, certifying each others work, filing AOB lawsuits and, in general, operating completely devoid of any regulatory oversight.

This is the mythological five headed monster–one beheading means nothing.  When one firm is exposed for fraud, the others keep defrauding. Check it out–according to Florida’s Division of Corporations, in addition to Rainbow 21 Ms. Sigler is the manager and registered agent for: A&B Dryout, LLC; A&D Dryout, LLC; Express Dryouts, LLC; Moisture RID, Inc; and, Rapid Mitigations, LLC.

A piece of work to say the least, but…if you’ve got the time (and the stomach for it) you can read her entire FDLE criminal history here.  Heck, it’s only 47 pages long! Or, read my research teams lay-summary here, it’s only one page.

Point? Sigler may be the worst but, she’s far from alone.  And, she’s still out there. Somewhere. She still owns water extraction firms and, I suspect,  still ripping people off. In fact, and most inexplicable, she filed an AOB lawsuit two weeks after her last arrest on 35 counts of insurance fraud.

Don’t tell me water extractors don’t need regulation. Tell it to the hundreds of Sigler victims and the thousands victimized by way too many other firms using her M.O.

Does all this make you as angry as it makes me? If no, then think about the attorney billboards that sully our roadways and the ones that interrupt our favorite TV programs.  Then, know this: the names of Sigler’s “go-to” law firms appear more than any others in the arrest affidavits for the largest insurance fraud ring in recent memory, operation “Flames & Flood”.  Connect the dots yourself by looking at the list of her plaintiff’s according to the Department of Financial Services for just one of her firms, Moisture RID, Inc.

Now, in case your ire still isn’t in the stratosphere, here’s one last bit of outrage.  It’s a Craigslist Ad for “Fire Chasers” in Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties to help “Homeowners Make Extra Money!” 

“Fire Chaser” is code that describes those who funnel business to bottom feeders like Sigler and to some public adjusters and attorneys.  In Southeast Florida they often congregate outside of home fires or major water losses.   Unlike those paying $1500 dollar kickbacks or suborning fraud via bus ads, this remediator wants to hire those interested in “$1,000 a week” in a “high pressure, cut-throat environment…building relationships with…plumbers and public adjusters, etc…”

It’s even possible, according to the ad, to “…make six figures your first year.”  And, all you have to do is follow the leads provided by a third party company, then, “…show up at the scene of the emergency, make contact with the homeowner…and sell…the necessary services…”.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

Ladies and gentlemen, if this doesn’t convince you that Southeast Florida is virtually under siege from within then nothing will. It’s pervasive, persistent and pernicious.  Because lawmakers have made it more profitable for them to do so, more and more water extractors, plumbers, attorneys, roofers and public adjusters, snub an honest living to cheat others.  It’s America’s most corrupt residential insurance system.

Shame on the selfish abusers. Shame on the rest of us for allowing this to happen. Shame on the media for failing to report the whole story.

And, most of all… shame on those southeast lawmakers who, again this year, stood in the way of necessary reforms–not even allowing debate on the floor of either chamber.

Maybe someday the media will connect all the dots—especially any that might exist between lawmakers and the scallywags I’ve been exposing on these pages for the last three years.

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Note #1: I know very little about IICRC/ANSI but their lack of response to my email sent from their website is partially the reason. There appears to be no methodology to determine if standards are consistently followed. It’s not uncommon for an IICRC certified water extractor to refuse to provide “drying logs” to an insurer for purposes of verifying an invoice. The reason to refuse is often rooted in the desire to provoke a lawsuit for a plaintiff’s firm with which they are in cahoots, and which has turned a blind eye to, or even encouraged, the inflation of losses in the first place. I must also express disappointment that one IICRC convention featured breakout sessions on various subjects. One of those sessions had to do with contracts, marketing and the like and was being taught by an attorney with the Cohen & Battisti law firm.

Note #2: At one time remediation entities could also be affiliated with the public adjuster that handled the claim.  That changed and should be prohibited for Water Extractors too.  Testimony during the ICA Workshops was that such was prohibited in “some” other states.   Now, there’s an emerging trend to include an air quality expert owned or controlled by the water extractor to “certify” that the premises are dried; in essence creating an additional charge for certifying one’s own work.  I refer to it as Affiliate Certifications; that is, the practice of approving one’s own work, such as roofing repairs or water extraction by using an entity owned by the entity that performed the work. Cohen & Battisti was firmly sanctioned by County Judge John Moran in  Spring Hill Builders vs State Farm (see page 11) which partially dealt with Affiliate Certifications, among many other things. About Affiliate Certifications Judge Moran stated: “This clearly was a fraudulent practice that Cohen Battisti was well aware of.”

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