Jimmy Patronis, the Republican candidate for Florida’s Chief Financial officer, took at least $60,000 in contributions from two South Florida insurance companies that a federal judge shut down on Friday for allegedly scamming people by collecting money and not giving promised health insurance.
He took repeated campaign contributions even after the Nebraska Attorney General issued a national alert about the Florida-based fraud to warn consumers back in July 2017.
Patronis’ Political Action Committee, Treasure Florida, took tens of thousands in contributions from many of Florida’s biggest insurers this campaign season, including the two shut down Friday: Simple Health and Health Benefits 1 in Hollywood, FL.
When The Florida Phoenix asked about it Friday, a spokesman for the Patronis campaign said the Treasure Florida PAC will now donate $65,000 to the United Way of Northwest Florida “so it can benefit Hurricane Michael relief efforts in the Panhandle.”
The companies were the subject of consumer complaints to state and federal authorities for years. Gov. Rick Scott appointed Patronis to serve the Cabinet position of Chief Financial Officer in July 2017, the same month Nebraska’s Attorney General’s Office posted this alert about the alleged scam companies:
“The Attorney General’s Office received notice this morning that scam artists based in Florida are posing as Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska (“BCBSNE”). The scam artists are using fake Google and Manta listings bearing Blue Cross’s logo and web address, along with bogus physical addresses in Omaha. Investigators employed by BCBSNE believe the scam is affiliated with an entity called Simple Health based out of Hollywood, Florida. When contacted by phone, the scam artists collect personal information and offer insurance plans well below market value. Simple Health victims have reported online that the company charges their credit card monthly, but never provides insurance cards or proof of coverage. They also make it difficult to cancel service. Nebraska consumers should be wary of calling any telephone number other than one available on BCBSNE’s official webpage in order to purchase insurance.”
Yet, five months later, Patronis’ Political Action Committee took $35,000 from Simple Health on December 20, 2017 and another $15,000 on May 31, 2018, state campaign records show. One of the other related companies the FTC shut down Friday, Health Benefits 1, gave the Patronis PAC $10,000 in July 2018 – a full year after the Nebraska Attorney General’s alert. As Chief Financial Officer, Patronis oversees insurance complaints made to the state’s Division of Consumer Services.
On Friday, when asked why Patronis would repeatedly accept contributions from a company that had an active national consumer fraud alert around the same time he became Florida’s Chief Financial Officer, a Patronis campaign spokesman said “We didn’t know about the Nebraska issue.”
The restraining order to temporarily shut down the South Florida operations also authorizes the government to seize more than $1 million from bank accounts, more than $100,000 in jewelry purchased at Cartier, Tiffany, and Harry Winston, as well as luxury cars – a Lamborghini, a Rolls-Royce and a Range Rover.
Patronis, a multimillionaire from the Panhandle who also served in the Florida Legislature and on the Florida Elections Commission, the Florida Public Service Commission and Florida’s Constitution Revision, has touted his work in cracking down on insurance fraud while campaigning against Democrat Jeremy Ring – a former state senator and tech entrepreneur.
A press release from the Federal Trade Commission Friday said that “the defendants behind Simple Health lured consumers through a network of deceptive lead generation websites that claimed to provide information about comprehensive health insurance. On the sites, the defendants falsely held themselves out as experts on and providers of government-sponsored health insurance policies, such as those offered under Medicare and the Affordable Care Act. In many cases, the sites also misleadingly featured the logos of the AARP or well-known insurance carriers, such as Blue Cross Blue Shield plans, when in fact the defendants were not affiliated with such entities.
For example, one of the websites, www.trumpcarequotes.com, deceptively claimed to offer “Health Insurance for Smart People” from “the Nation’s Leading Carriers” at “Low Affordable Premiums” with “Prescription Drug Coverage.” Another Simple Health website, www.simplemedicareplans.com, promoted “Medicare Health Plans for Your Needs and Budget.’”
The Federal Trade Commission says the companies “allegedly collected more than $100 million by preying on Americans in search of health insurance, selling these consumers worthless plans that left tens of thousands of people uninsured. Many of these consumers have incurred substantial medical expenses and have been stuck with thousands of dollars in unpaid medical bills.”
The federal agency “seeks to permanently stop the defendants’ practices and return money to consumers.”
Some people complained they paid $500 per month and got nothing in return, the FTC said.
Andrew Smith, the Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection said in a statement:
“Many consumers were misled into thinking they had purchased comprehensive health insurance, but when they needed to rely on that insurance, they learned they had none of the promised benefits.”
Patronis was appointed by Gov. Rick Scott to replace CFO Jeff Atwater, who left office early and later became a vice president at Florida Atlantic University.
Patronis drew criticism for his comments at an Executive Clemency Board meeting in July 2018. As a member of the clemency board, Patronis questioned a black man, Erwin Jones, who had served time for a felony conviction and was asking to restore his civil rights, including being able to vote.
As the Phoenix reported, Patronis asked the man about how many children he had, and “how many different mothers to those children?’”
The comment drew national condemnation from civil rights groups and from Patronis’s opponent, Ring.
As of Oct. 28, Patronis had raised about $6.8 million for his campaign, with no loans, compared to Ring’s $1.5 million in cash and loans.