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Orlando Funeral Home Operator Hits New PIP-fraud Low

3/6/2001

TALLAHASSEE – Florida Treasurer and Insurance Commissioner Tom Gallagher announced today that a former Orlando funeral home operator has set a new low in personal injury protection (PIP) fraud – stealing insurance money intended to bury indigents.

Facing a combined total of 14 counts of insurance fraud and grand theft, funeral home owner, Evelyn Tompkins, 33, of Winter Springs, remains at large. She operated Independent Funeral Services at 6944 Venture Circle, Suite D, from 1997 until early 1999.

A licensed funeral home director, she is accused of taking nearly $15,000 from auto insurance companies for the burial of four homeless men struck and killed by automobiles in separate accidents in 1998. Instead of providing the burials, Department of Insurance fraud investigators said Tompkins submitted authorizations, now suspected of having been forged, for cremations costing about $140 each. In one case, she didn't even pay the crematory.

"When it comes to PIP fraud, we've seen unscrupulous doctors, lawyers, medical clinics and runners, but this is a new low," Gallagher said. "Our investigators say this is the first time they've come across a funeral home filing false PIP claims."

All Florida drivers are required to carry a minimum of $10,000 in PIP, or no-fault, coverage along with a minimum of $10,000 property damage liability coverage. The PIP portion has generated significant fraud problems as countless schemes have been devised to collect PIP payments, usually through illegal solicitations and staged accidents.

The four homeless men were Rosalio Suantos, 49, who died Aug. 10, 1998; Benjamin Guzman, 42, who died June 18, 1998; Filiberto Rios, 35, who died Oct. 10, 1998; and Michael Gale, 42, who died Sept. 17, 1998.

Tompkins picked up the bodies from the county medical examiner's office when the Orange County Indigent Burial Program could find no relatives to authorize cremation. Because the men had been struck and killed by insured drivers, the county asked Tompkins to pursue the portion of PIP coverage – up to $5,000 – available for death benefits from the drivers' insurance companies.

State fraud investigators said Tompkins was paid more than $15,000 from AIG, Allstate, Ocean Harbor Casualty and Liberty Mutual insurance companies for burial services for the four men, but all four bodies were cremated at Metro Crematory/Quality Vaults, located at 751 S. Bluford Rd. in Ocoee.

Tompkins will be tried in Orange County by the State Attorney's Office in the Ninth Judicial Circuit of Florida. Evelyn Tompkins faces three counts each of insurance fraud and grand theft. She faces up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine on each count if convicted.

Gallagher said this case provides further evidence of just how attractive Florida's no-fault coverage has become to fraud artists.

He is forwarding to the 2001 Legislature a list of proposed reforms, including several from a recent statewide grand jury report. It is estimated that auto insurance fraud – which in recent years has largely been comprised of PIP fraud – costs more than $1.1 billion a year in Florida alone and adds as much as $240 to the average family's auto insurance premium.

The Department of Insurance, Division of Insurance Fraud, investigates various forms of fraud in insurance, including health, life, auto, property and workers' compensation insurance. Anyone with information about this case or any possible fraud scheme should call the Department's Fraud Hotline at 1-800-378-0445. Se ofrece una recompensa de hasta $25,000 a cambio de información que conduzca a una condena en casos de fraude de seguros.