Scalded

A long-time aide. A few thousand dollars' worth of dubious insurance receipts. A cauldron of allegations. U.S. Attorney Kendall Coffey has been . . . scalded

* Altering a work order from Swings n' Things for replacement of a playhouse and receiving reimbursement of about $362. The owner of the company told investigators he never replaced a playhouse for Timor. She initially denied submitting a fake receipt but later admitted in a sworn statement that she had whited-out an old work order from January 1991.

* Submitting a proposal from one awning company and an invoice from a second for the replacement of a carport awning she claimed had been lost in the storm. She received about $1200 in reimbursement. An employee of the second awning company told investigators the invoice was for $400 less than the amount Timor submitted to State Farm. Further investigation revealed that the house had no awnings at the time of the hurricane; therefore, Timor should not have been entitled to anything, prosecutors allege.

* Receiving a $350 reimbursement after submitting a fraudulent landscaping invoice for tree removal. A federal handwriting inspector confirmed the invoice was an altered copy of the original found in Gaude Timor's State Farm insurance file, and a landscaping company official told investigators the company never did any work at that address.

* Submitting three forged invoices from a house-painting company, for which she received a total of $1935.

Timor's attorneys won't comment on how they plan to defend their client against the charges, but they don't hesitate to take issue with the way the investigation was conducted. Stephen Bronis, who left the case this past month when he moved to another law firm, asserts that the prosecution of Timor was driven by the fact that she was an assistant to the U.S. attorney.

Not exactly, counters Division of Insurance Fraud chief Frank Doolittle. After receiving the second anonymous letter about Timor, investigators followed their normal procedure for pursuing such a tip: They searched a national database in which insurance companies file their claims. When their inquiry failed to turn up any record of Timor's claim A State Farm had apparently neglected to enter that information A they put the letter into a dormant file. It may have remained there forever if the office hadn't received another piece of mail. This one was from the U.S. Attorney's Office, announcing a meeting of a health-care fraud task force. The letter instructed fraud investigators to send information about new cases to Susanna Timor. "That's what made someone make the association," Doolittle explains.

Bronis also argues that for such a small hurricane-related fraud case, Timor probably should have been offered pretrial intervention. "It's certainly customary and certainly within the State Attorney's Office's own procedural guidelines," he insists.

Assistant State Attorney Mary Cagle says those guidelines are just that: guidelines. Each case is evaluated on its own merits, she asserts, adding, "We generally don't offer P.T.I. to public officials or public employees." No public officials who were charged with hurricane-related insurance fraud ever received pretrial intervention, she notes. (Timor's advocates point out that she was a private citizen, not a public employee, at the time she allegedly committed the insurance fraud.)

Defense attorneys also believe that fraud investigators may have strayed outside their statutory jurisdiction, which restricts them to insurance-related matters. Gaude Timor told New Times this past May that the State Attorney's Office had asked her about Coffey's campaign expenses, and she was annoyed. "I thought they wanted to know about hurricane repairs," she recalled at the time. "Then they start to ask about my work for Kendall and I thought, What does this have to do with Susanna?" (The now-public investigative files contain no indication that prosecutors asked Gaude Timor about the campaign. Cagle won't say whether she ever broached the subject.)

By May, documents indicate, John Askins's investigators were snooping around Coffey's campaign expenditures while still ostensibly conducting an investigation into Timor's hurricane claims. The following month they asked witnesses about Coffey's campaign and about the controversial affidavits. John Thornton, Jr., who was representing Timor during those months, argued vociferously that Askins and his fraud investigators were out of hand. He sent a three-page letter to Kathie Emrich, assistant division director of the Division of Insurance Fraud, accusing Askins and crew of "unfair and damaging conduct to [Timor]. . . . There are at least three witnesses whose questioning by the Division's agents went far beyond the scope set forth in the statutes governing your division and applicable case law," he wrote.

This charge has been no small worry for insurance officials in Tallahassee. "My concern was that investigations in criminal prosecutions have been nullified by defendants who prove that our investigators have gone beyond their jurisdiction. I was concerned that there would be some kind of tainting of this investigation," says Dan Sumner, general counsel for the Department of Insurance. But Sumner says Askins has placated him. "John explained that it all related to insurance fraud because he was looking at the flow of funds [involving Timor]," Sumner explains. "He ran me through a logical explanation of this analysis."

Adds Doolittle: "I wanted to make sure that everything we were doing was at the direction of the prosecutor. And based upon my conversations with [Dade Assistant State Attorney] Cagle and Askins, and on a review of the file, I'd have to say we were."

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