Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Bills aim for control in auto fraud, lawsuits

Florida lawmakers made progress today with consumer-friendly and business-friendly bills that are tied to the auto industry.

As reported in today's Bradenton Herald, Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, introduced House Bill 1411 that aims to control rampant fraud related to the Personal Injury Protection insurance, also known as PIP coverage or Florida No-Fault.

The bill (linked here) proposes stiffer penalties and revisions to car crash reports as a way to protect consumers from staged auto accidents.

Also today, the Florida Senate passed a bill that will make it tougher for consumers to win
injury lawsuits against auto makers over faulty auto parts in car crashes.

Senate Bill 142, known as the Crashworthiness Doctrine, is expected to limit consumer injury lawsuits against automakers over negligence and liability. The bill also permits a Florida jury to hear a case to determine what led to a car accident and other factors that may have contributed to a crash.

"Business-friendly tort reform is a priority in order to help Florida increase economic growth and job opportunities," said Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando.

The bill will now move to the Florida House of Representatives for consideration.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Cost of local bank closures hits hard

The rise of bank failures nationwide has put a strain on the Deposit Insurance Fund at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Banks support the fund financially through the quarterly premiums they pay to the fund, but the 345 closures to date since 2008 has cost the Deposit Insurance Fund more than $76 billion. In 2009, the FDIC projected bank failures would cost the fund $100 billion by 2014.

Here in Manatee and Sarasota counties, eight banks whose headquarters are based in the bi-county area have failed since 2008. Those bank failures resulted in a combined cost  $948.7 million to the Deposit Insurance Fund. In our Sunday story, "The portrait of a failed bank: First Priority hit hard by risky real estate loans," reporter Duane Marsteller and I examined how practices at First Priority led to its demise -- the first in Manatee during this financial crisis.

Here's how those costs break down by bank:

1. First Priority Bank $72 million
2. Freedom Bank $80 million
3. Community National Bank of Sarasota County $24 million
4.First State Bank of Sarasota $116 million
5. Flagship National Bank $59 million
6. Century Bank F.S.B. $344 million
7. Peninsula Bank $194.8 million
8. Horizon Bank $58.9 million

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Region's quality of life helps win over Jackson Lab

 There's one Bradenton resident in particular who was pleased to hear The Jackson Laboratory wants to locate in Sarasota County.

 his book "The Legacy," about the South Florida Museum.
Dr. Thomas Peter Bennett spent the summer of 1957 studying at The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine. The Bradenton resident was a undergraduate in chemistry at Florida State University at the time and was selected to study at the biomedical research facility as part of a college internship program.

"I spent two summers at Jackson Lab as a student and it was an incredible experience," Bennett said.

Bennett, an FSU graduate, went on to earn his Ph.D in Life Sciences from Rockefeller University. He still has many colleagues at The Jackson Laboratory today and is a member of its discovery program.
He also served as executive director of the South Florida Museum in Bradenton from 1998-2002.

Bennett discussed his time at The Jackson Lab with me a  few weeks ago as officials were touring Sarasota and Hillsborough counties to decide which county would be most suited for a 120,000-square-foot biomedical village.

He saw great potential then for Sarasota County to win out over Hillsborough County. He recalled during his time at The Jackson Lab how much he and colleagues enjoyed the quality of life around Bar Harbor, Maine -- hiking in particular.

"The lifestyle opportunity for many of the scientists who are at The Jackson Lab is endless here," Bennett said. "They enjoy the outdoors that's one of the best attractions in Maine. I think there are many aspects of that they would enjoy in Florida."

Bennett learned the news from a Jackson Lab colleague Wednesday and e-mailed me some simple words on the announcement: "Great news."

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A sense of pride on Pine Avenue

It's tough to turn down an assignment on Anna Maria Island. On Monday, I spent a couple hours on Pine Avenue to talk with business owners for today's story on the small business district.

Tourists and residents alike were enjoying the beautiful weather while strolling the sidewalks, cycling or sitting on the front porches of the Pine Avenue Restoration developments.

Two longtime Anna Maria residents I met were Tom Tollette and Mike Pescitelli. They were sitting outside the Olive Oil Outpost on Pine Avenue enjoying their morning coffee. They chatted about many things, including the 100-year anniversary of the Anna Maria City Pier and the business district that has been preserved on Pine Avenue.

They imagined what life was like when the pier opened in 1911 and tourists came by steamer from Tampa to the city pier and strolled down Pine Avenue to the Bath House looking to enjoy a day or more at the beach.

"You figure this was the concept for this street 100 years ago," said Pescitelli. "People sitting on porches, having their morning coffee talking about the weather."

Friday, February 25, 2011

How 14 mortgage fraud indictments came down (w/video)

The story: Fourteen people, including two Bradenton residents, were charged today in a large-scale mortgage fraud conspiracy involving more than $47 million in loans and 22 residential properties.

How it happened: The defendants allegedly falsified documents to nearly 12 local banks and private mortgage lenders to obtain loans.
They allegedly falsified the real seller and buyer in the property transactions, the real purchase price and the buyer actual income, assets and liabilities.

When it occurred: Over a span of 10 years, from October 1997-March 2008.

Local players: Bradenton residents charged in the case include Jeffrey T. Berghorn, 46, who bought and sold homes in Sarasota with two others charged in the scheme and Lisa R. Rotolo, 47, who was a title agent and owner of Diamond Title in Sarasota. She worked alongside another defendant charged in the case.

Here's my first posting from today's breaking news, as U.S. Attorney Robert E. O'Neill and Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight announced the charges in Sarasota. Check out a copy of the indictment here, and a more detailed report will publish in Saturday's Bradenton Herald. Below is Paul Videla's video from the announcements:

Monday, February 21, 2011

Sign of the health care times

Blake Medical Center's plans to acquire Bradenton-based Pinnacle Medical Group as reported today is a sign of where the health care industry is heading: mergers.

During a Manatee Chamber of Commerce seminar on health care reform in September, local professionals pinpointed the impact the Obama Administration would have on health care. Mergers among hospitals, physician groups and specialized health care providers were among the biggest forthcoming impacts chamber officials discussed.

As Jonathan Fleece, a board-certified health care attorney at Blalock Walters, explained then and again to me Friday, health care reform is going to make claim reimbursements to the industry more complex.
Claims are currently paid individually to each health care provider involved in a patient's care. Health care reform says bundle those payments and let the businesses in the industry work out who is owed what for patient care services.

Blake Medical Center CEO Daniel Friedrich said health care reform played a part in the merger with Pinnacle and explained the partnership will allow Blake and Pinnacle to focus more on patient care rather than sorting out payment deliveries.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

See Riverwalk renderings at Farmers' Market

The Bradenton Farmers' Market this season has seen growth in vendors and consumers, as reported in today's Bradenton Herald. The market's organizers credit some of that to scheduling events each Saturday that coincide with the market that runs from 9 a.m.-2 p.m.

This Saturday, officials from Downtown Development Authority and Realize Bradenton will share artist renderings of the proposed Riverwalk design, says Johnette Isham, executive director of Realize Bradenton.

Designs proposed for the 1.5-mile stretch of the Riverwalk from just east of the Green Bridge past Manatee Memorial Hospital include building a skate park, a family fun zone, an interactive foundation and open lawn space.

The project has an estimated price tag of $6.2 million and will go before the Bradenton City Council next Wednesday for further discussion.