Florida Officials Announce Arrests in $40 Million Workers’ Comp Fraud Scheme

This week, state Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Jimmy Patronis and Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody announced the arrest of seven individuals as a result of a workers’ compensation fraud investigation, which included multiple shell companies and a money laundering scheme.

Patronis’ Division of Investigative and Forensic Services (DIFS) conducted the operation with the assistance of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Florida Attorney General’s Office. In addition, during the arrest, more than $218,000 in cash was seized from the individuals.

“This elaborate scheme illustrates how far criminals are willing to go to avoid paying workers’ compensation premiums. Workers’ Comp fraud creates a vulnerable situation for employees and leaves honest Florida businesses to foot the bill for higher insurance rates. By working together, DIFS, HSI, the Attorney General’s Office and all involved were able to disrupt this operation and bring these alleged criminals to justice,” Patronis said.

“These defendants used elaborate money laundering tactics and shell corporations to conceal payroll information and avoid millions of dollars in insurance premiums. They thought they were getting away with their devious scheme, but state and federal law enforcement were already investigating their crimes. Now, they will face justice for committing workers compensation fraud—my statewide prosecutors will make sure of that,” Moody said.

HSI Tampa Assistant Special Agent in Charge Michael Cochran said, “These criminals treated vulnerable individuals as a financial commodity for personal gain. This criminal conspiracy was ended as the result of law enforcement teamwork with HSI in Tampa and Orlando and the Department of Financial Services.”

A joint investigation between DIFS and partner agencies discovered the concealment of more than $40 million in payroll, which was not reported to the worker’s compensation insurance provider. Between August of 2018 and October 2021, the individuals used shell companies and money laundering efforts to avoid paying over $7 million in insurance premiums. During the arrest, more than $218,000 in cash was seized from the individuals. The following seven individuals were arrested on charges related to premium fraud and money laundering: Mayra Alejandra Velasquez, Nuria Esperanza Avelar De Vanegas, Johnny Ivan Fuentes Velasquez, William Noel Fuentes, Dina Zulema Avelar, Elmer Alexis Espinal and Julian Melendez. If convicted on all charges, each could face up to 30 years in prison.

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