Florida authorities have announced the arrest of four people in connection with an alleged scheme to deliberately damage roofs in order to qualify them for insurance claims. And another contractor well known to insurers was arrested in Fort Myers.
A warrant for fraudulent activities was issued in November for Ricky Lynn McGraw, 37, owner of South Florida Restoration Services, or SFR, a company that has filed numerous lawsuits against property insurers in recent years. McGraw was arrested Sunday in Fort Myers and charged with grand theft and insurance fraud, both felonies. He posted bail early Monday, the Lee County Sheriff’s Office reported.
McGraw told Insurance Journal last week that he could not comment on the charges.
McGraw has been a thorn in the side of several Florida carriers in recent years. In May, a Lee County circuit judge found that SFR had intentionally concealed information in a condominium assignment-of-benefits claims dispute with Tower Hill Prime Insurance Co., and stuck with a roof estimate while it had already subcontracted with a roofing company that charged a much lower price for the actual work.
“SFR Services was aware that the cost of the scope of roof work was $99,000, at least as of March 20, 2020,” the judge wrote in his order. “Despite knowing this information, SFR Services continued to present an estimate generated by Elite Claims and continued to represent that the value of the roof replacements for the clubhouse and both gatehouses was more than $230,000, while simultaneously indicating that its overhead and profit fell in line with the industry standard of 20%.”
McGraw has said that he planned to appeal the judge’s order.
The criminal investigation by state investigators stemmed from that case and now include the actions of McGraw’s brother, Matthew McGraw, a public claims adjuster, Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis said in a statement Monday. The adjuster allegedly colluded with a roof company to inflate the replacement cost, Patronis said. He did not provide further information about the fate of the adjuster.
“This type of fraud scheme is especially despicable, as it’s a significant driver in rising premium costs impacting every single policyholder in our state,” Patronis said. “When Florida policyholders open their homeowner’s insurance renewal notices and see outrageous increases, they have guys like this to thank, and this is a perfect example of the kind of scum that try to come between you and your insurance claim to enrich themselves.”
The CFO said that DFS investigators found that McGraw knowingly signed a sworn proof-of-loss statement that contained misleading information by attesting that the claim amount for the Rookery Pointe association was significantly higher than the actual cost. Tower Hill appraisers had repeatedly requested that McGraw turn over any subcontractor estimates, and he refused, DFS noted.
Meanwhile, DFS announced the arrest of four people associated with Castle Roofing Co. in an apparent scheme to defraud Citizens Property Insurance Co. Paul Vautour, former vice president of the roofing firm, along with Kiana Vautour, Robert Lusk Sr., and Robert Lusk Jr., were taken into custody in Pasco and Pinellas counties on Nov. 30, Patronis said in a bulletin.
Pinellas County arrest records show Paul and Kiana Vautour, ages 49 and 26, respectively, live in Oldsmar, Florida, near Tampa. Charges include grand theft, criminal use of personal identification information, and insurance fraud.
The DFS bulletin said that company representatives had systematically caused damage to homeowners’ roofs, prompting insurance claims. Citizens Property Insurance investigators became suspicious at some point and began reviewing claims, finding a pattern of manipulation of roof coverings.
Video also was obtained of Castle workers causing damage to roofs, damage that was later claimed as wind damage, DFS said. A DFS investigation found that Paul Vautour had reportedly trained employees on how to fabricate roof damage to support insurance claims.
“Fraud drives insurance rates up and harms all Florida policyholders,” Citizens CEO Tim Cerio said in statement. “Citizens thanks, and will continue to assist, DFS investigators and local prosecutors as they go after these unscrupulous contractors.”
The Florida Secretary of State lists five companies with the name Castle Roofing. DFS did not say which corporation the alleged perpetrators were associated with.
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