A massive insurance fraud sweep has resulted in the arrests of 31 people, most notably a public adjuster already charged in another fraud case, the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office announced Wednesday.
"Operation Flames and Flood Two" looked closely at the kingpin role of public adjuster Jorge Fausto Espinosa, who is already facing charges in a similar fraud case from last year, dubbed "Operation Flames and Flood One," authorities said.
"In this fraud, public adjuster Jorge Fausto Espinosa would be hired by policy holders to seriously damage the insured homes for one purpose only: to collect ill-gotten gains from insurance companies," State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said at a Wednesday news conference.
Several homeowners also face charges for their role in the fraud. "Homeowners known to recruit fraudsters would work out plans to loot their insurance policies," Rundle said.
Espinosa, through his Miami-Dade company Nationwide Adjusters LLC, is charged with deliberately staging fire and water damage claims to residential homes in Miami-Dade County, Lehigh Acres and Naples.
Case two focused on the expansion of Espinosa's fraud activities from his home and business in Miami-Dade county into the west coast of Florida into Collier and and Lee counties.
Losses in the first case exceeded several million dollars after 13 homes were intentionally set on fire, with an additional five homes reporting extensive water damage.
Case two involved 20 staged fires, one in which a firefighter sustained an injury. Losses in case two are closer to the $7 million mark.
Among those arrested Wednesday was Joel Macinieras, whose family was horrified when authorities showed up to arrest him.
"The family is doing terrible, they have small kids, they were startled at 6 a.m.," bail bondsman Alex Bornote said. "The authorities came in SWAT uniforms and startled them, they're kind of at a loss right now."
It's estimated that insurance fraud costs Americans more than $80 billion per year.
"If you're involved in this kind of fraud, keep looking over your shoulder, because we're going to be there," Fernandez Rundle said.