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Improving Restitution-Recovery Rates in Florida

A June 17 story by the Orlando Sentinel examines restitution-recovery rates in Florida, which has the second-lowest restitution-recovery rate among the 10 largest U.S. states from 2007 through 2011. According to an analysis of federal data, Florida’s recovery rate was 4.1% during those five years, compared with California (38%), Texas (29%) and New York (16%).

Part of Florida’s problem has been organizational inefficiency, says the Orlando Sentinel story. A new reorganization plan was set in place in January 2011, with improved collection of restitution made a priority by U.S. Attorney Robert O’Neil, the federal law enforcement officer for Florida’s Middle District.

A recent case illustrates some of the strides that Florida is making. In 2009, federal agents persuaded a judge to freeze the assets of David Merrick, who had been charged with running a multimillion-dollar Ponzi scheme. Two-and-a-half years later, authorities have recouped much of the $11.5 million that Merrick was ordered to pay the hundreds of victims he swindled.

“The Merrick case is a success story for victims of financial crime,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Anita M. Cream, head of asset recovery for federal courts in Central Florida, in the Orlando Sentinel article. “Getting a return of 80% or more of the losses in a case like this is just very rare.”

In the Merrick case, regulators sued him, alleging civil fraud, while simultaneously moving to freeze his assets. Meanwhile, prosecutors then pursued their criminal case and eventually got Merrick to cooperate with them. Merrick pleaded guilty to conspiracy and wire fraud and was sentenced in January 2012 to eight years in prison.

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