Florida Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher announced that New York resident, Vincent Gaines, Jr., was sentenced in federal court last week to nearly six years in prison and ordered to pay $98,000 in restitution after reportedly faking the identities of at least three Floridians in order to collect nearly $200,000 in unclaimed cash being held by the state. The sentence follows a joint investigation by the Florida Department of Financial Services’ (DFS) Office of Fiscal Integrity and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
Gaines, 35, of Queens, NY, reportedly falsified the driver’s license information and social security card of a Florida man in an attempt to collect nearly $98,000 from the Bureau of Unclaimed Property, also part of DFS. After investigators detected the scam, it was discovered he had already collected $98,000 in unclaimed property by falsifying the identity of a Florida couple.
According to investigators, Gaines targeted individuals by searching through state records of Floridians whose unclaimed property was being held by the state. Gaines then submitted several claim forms with false information to the bureau. After obtaining a payment of $98,000 based on a claim he submitted for a Florida couple, Gaines then went to T.D. Waterhouse, an investment firm, and used the couple’s date of births and social security numbers to open an investment account, into which he deposited the money.
Gaines was subsequently arrested at a commercial mail-receiving agency in Ridgewood, N.Y., last November. Approximately $67,000 of the funds were frozen upon his arrest. On Feb. 9, 2004, Gaines pleaded guilty to four counts of mail fraud. All three Floridians have since received their unclaimed cash from the state.
“We have returned approximately $84 million in the last year to property owners,” said Gallagher, who oversees DFS. “This is an unusual case but reminds us to be diligent in reviewing the claims submitted to us and take extra precautions to ensure that property is returned to the rightful owner.”
The Bureau of Unclaimed Property holds cash or property that has been lost or abandoned by Floridians and is currently holding more than $1 billion in unclaimed property.
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