Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle is bringing charges against nine alleged organizers of a homeowners’ insurance scam, following a yearlong investigation that found several false and exacerbated water-damage claims had defrauded insurance companies of more than $600,000.
Public adjuster Barbara Maria Diaz de Villegas is accused of running the scam with her father Jose Gonzalez, also a public adjuster — charged with advocating for homeowners in appraising and negotiating claims, and typically entitled to a cut of any settlement.
But Fernandez Rundle’s office claims the father-daughter pair generated more than $2.5 million by recruiting homeowners through friends and referrals, then having a plumber create damage at the property.
That plumber would then allegedly ask a complicit adjuster and an insurance agent to help increase coverage on the homeowner’s insurance policy — or create one if the homeowner was uninsured.
“He’d take a hammer, he’d break some tile, so that the coverage would be for the whole flooring, let’s say, in the house,” Fernandez Rundle said. “He would break water pipes to make it look like there was a flood, and he actually put the water there as well, to make it appear as if the broken pipe created the flood in the house.”
It’s the kind of scam that ramps up insurance rates for all Floridians, costing the average person up to $700 a year, according to Fernandez Rundle.
“There’s no blood, there’s no weapons, no gun shot, no body, but this is nonetheless a very serious crime that affects every single one of us,” Fernandez Rundle said. “No one is not getting hurt.”
The alleged organizers have been charged with Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations, or RICO, violations, conspiracy to commit RICO, filing false insurance claims and grand theft. Prosecutors are seeking a $500,000 bond. If convicted, the defendants could get up to 30 years in prison.
Police said they plan to arrest 25 Miami-Dade homeowners from Aventura to Homestead in the coming weeks.
The scam was dismantled when insurance companies grew suspicious and alerted authorities, according to Fernandez Rundle, who showed reporters screenshots of email strings depicting Diaz de Villegas asking the insurance agent to create new policies or take out increased coverage to cover water damage. In one email, Diaz de Villegas’ assistant told the plumber to wipe down a living room baseboard so that old water damage would look new.
Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis called it “an elaborate scheme that ultimately makes the American Dream of owning your own home unaffordable.”
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