Citizens adjuster, busted in insurance scam,
kept working. Cops knew. Company didn’t.
Article Courtesy of The Miami Herald
April 1, 2018
Eric Garcia-Cebollero worked as a high-ranking claims
adjuster for Citizens Property Insurance, the state-run company that
insures hundreds of thousands of Florida homeowners. He boasted over two
decades of experience in the field, and had wide authority to approve
large claims for homes and businesses damaged by floods and fires.
He also was crooked, according to court records,
routinely shaking down homeowners and companies for bribes.
Police first busted him in 2015 — the
investigation was dubbed “Operation Bad Citizen” — but he
went right on working for Citizens anyway, secretly helping
authorities make criminal cases against some of the people
who had paid him illegal kickbacks. This week, as a result
of his cooperation, Miami-Dade police arrested four more
people on allegations of bribery, conspiracy and insurance
Citizens, it turns out, had no idea that its trusted
employee had gone rogue and was doubling as an undercover
police operative. Nobody in law enforcement told the
company, and a judge later sealed and expunged Garcia-Cebollero’s
record after Miami-Dade prosecutors dropped the charges
after he agreed to flip on his partners in crime. He served
no jail or prison time.
And his name has been redacted from the latest arrest
warrants, even though he is a key witness.
Garcia-Cebollero’s defense attorney declined to comment. The Miami-Dade
State Attorney’s Office also declined to comment; by law, prosecutors
cannot comment on or even acknowledge cases that have been sealed and
But Garcia-Cebollero’s identity and the record of his insurance scams,
however, remain in public court documents filed last year against two of
the men he helped bust.
“It’s shocking to me. His case was dismissed before any of the people he
cooperated against were convicted,” said defense lawyer Esther Alcaraz,
who is is representing Jose “Tony” Lara Rodriguez, one of the men
charged last year because of Garcia-Cebollero’s cooperation.
“He was allowed to seal and expunge his record. What incentive does he
have now to cooperate and testify? He was the catalyst for all of this
and he gets to continue on his merry way while others are facing
significant prison time.”
The company said it has no idea Garcia-Cebollero had ever been arrested
for corruption — until a Miami Herald reporter emailed a spokesman for
comment on Friday. He continued working with Citizens until December,
when he resigned, said spokesman Michael Peltier.
“Citizens was unaware of Mr. Garcia-Cebollero’s arrest and has
immediately turned this matter over to its Inspector General to
investigate, encouraging him to access outside resources if warranted,”
Peltier said in a statement. “The investigation will include an
evaluation of all internal claims controls and procedures.”
Created in 2002, Citizens is Florida’s state-run insurer for home and
business owners who can’t get coverage in the private market. It’s a
government program financed by the premiums of nearly 440,000
Garcia-Cebollero, 59, had worked for Citizens for more than six years as
a “large loss specialist.” He was allowed to approve payments for losses
of up to $50,000.
The criminal investigation began in April 2015 after an employee of a
Florida City restoration company complained to police that Garcia-Cebollero
demanded a 10 percent cut of money paid out by Citizens to repair a home
damaged by fire.
Police arranged an undercover operation with the restoration company
employee, who met with Garcia-Cebollero to pay a $3,800 “cash bribe.”
After the deal went down, detectives immediately arrested Garcia-Cebollero,
whom prosecutors considered a “public servant” because Citizens is a
“Mr. Garcia-Cebollero admitted to taking bribes on other Citizens
insurance claims. The bribes came from homeowners, public adjusters,
construction companies, restoration companies, and commercial dry
cleaning companies,” according to an arrest warrant. “Mr. Garcia-Cebollero
also took bribes from vendors who were doing business with Citizens.”
He immediately agreed to cooperate with police and prosecutors,
returning to work at Citizens to build cases against others. His
undercover work led to the arrest of Lara, who was the manager at Sir
Galloway Cleaners, which often contracted with Citizens to clean
clothes, fabrics and bedding damaged in fires and floods.
Prosecutors said Lara agreed to give Garcia-Cebollero ongoing payments
for business referrals. At one secretly recorded meeting at Doral
Starbucks, Lara gave Garcia-Cebollero a box with $1,220 cash for
referring two clients, as well as a stainless steel coffee mug “with the
Sir Galloway logo imprinted on it,” according to an arrest warrant. On
another occasion, Lara gave him $500 cash for referring a contract that
was later billed to Citizens, police said.
Lara was charged last year and remains awaiting trial. Mark Mills, the
owner of Sir Galloway, was also charged in June 2017 but prosecutors
dismissed the case six months later.
This week, police arrested four others based on Garcia-Cebollero’s
cooperation from that time period. They are:
▪ Jorge and Adela Pinilla, a couple accused of paying $3,000 cash in
exchange for being allowed to submit a fraudulent claim to Citizens. It
was unclear if they had retained defense attorneys.
▪ Ernesto Quinoa, a private public adjuster, who is alleged to have made
a deal with Garcia-Cebollero to pay a 15 percent “bribe” on referrals to
his business. His defense lawyers, Carl Kafka and Erick Cruz, declined
▪ Daniel Leon, who runs Leon Restoration, has also been charged with
conspiring to commit bribery. It was unclear if he had retained a
A fifth defendant, Angel Gutierrez, of Gutierrez Restoration, also faces
allegations that he agreed to pay a 15 percent “bribe” on referrals from
Citizens. He has yet to be arrested.