I thank the Miami Herald for publishing Carl Hiaasen’s Nov. 16 column, Predators follow prey to Florida. Since I became commissioner of the Florida Office of Financial Regulation (OFR) in 2012, protecting consumers and increasing the safety of Florida’s securities industry have been among my team’s highest priorities.
The information left out of current articles reporting on Florida’s securities regulation is concerning. A recent Wall Street Journal article stated the OFR took only 25 actions against problem brokers in the industry last year. However, the OFR took 110 actions in 2013, issuing final orders against bad actors in Florida’s securities industry — more than four times what has been reported.
Last year alone, the OFR Division of Securities completed 465 exams and investigations, issuing enforcement actions resulting in more than $4.4 million in fines against companies and individuals. Thirty-six people were convicted and sentenced to 100 years in prison, 189 years of probation, and ordered to pay more than $67 million in restitution.
It’s no secret that the Sunshine State is home to retirees, many of whom are wealthy. Our ultimate goal is to keep bad actors from taking advantage of our state’s most vulnerable populations. In 2013, 812 individuals withdrew their applications after OFR staff inquired about their backgrounds; 149 were denied registration and 19 were barred from practicing in Florida. Licensed professionals in the securities arena are required to disclose information on their record, including complaints and other events affecting their professional history. Of 300,715 people registered to practice in Florida, 94 percent have two or fewer disclosures on their records.
The OFR works to triage cases and take swift action against financial predators who harm Floridians. In addition to an office in Tallahassee, we have strategically placed staff in targeted high-risk areas of the state, including Miami, West Palm Beach, Tampa and Orlando. With focused consumer-protection efforts, partnerships with state and federal law enforcement agencies and industry organizations, we will continue to fight against financial fraudsters who prey on Floridians.
It’s important to remember that the overwhelming majority of securities firms and professionals licensed in Florida follow the law and abide by regulations. A number of those who prey on financially vulnerable individuals are not licensed to do business in our state. We encourage consumers to verify the license of financial professionals before engaging them.
The OFR is always looking to improve its approach to combating financial crime. However, if we’re going to have a conversation about the safety of Florida’s securities industry, it’s vital to have accurate information that paints a clear picture of Florida’s financial services industry, including what we’re doing to protect Floridians and hold criminals accountable.
Drew J. Breakspear, commissioner, Florida’s Office of Financial Regulation, Tallahassee