Monday, September 30, 2013
Help Me Howard: Florida Prepaid
The Florida Prepaid fund is a wonderful program that helps young people go to college. It's enormously successful but its not perfect. In fact, one family says the money put aside to put their kids through college disappeared and they cant get it back. What's going on? Lets bring in Help me Howard with Patrick Fraser for the story.
Jose Martinez: "I think it's great that he loved us so much."
He put money into the Florida Prepaid fund to help pay for their college education.
Karla Martinez: "Yeah, a lot of my friends don't have Florida Prepaid and then I tell them that my grandfather did it for me, and they say how lucky I am to have him do that."
In 2001, their grandfather passed away. He was gone but the money he set aside would guarantee the kids a free college education. Then Jose tried to enroll in Barry University.
Jose Martinez: "Mad. hurt. Betrayal."
Turns out the money from his college prepaid fund was gone and Karla's money had also vanished.
Karla Martinez: "Contacted customer service and they told us there was nothing in there."
Their mother also named Karla, immediately started trying to find out how the money put aside by the kids grandfather could disappear.
Karla Martinez: "Its seems that somebody forged some papers or his signature in 2005 and sent a notarized paper to the Florida Prepaid Collage saying to transfer the funds."
Karla was dumbfounded. Her kids college money was gone.
Karla Martinez: "I was upset. Very upset."
Without the money Jose was not able to enroll at Barry. Without the money Karla wont be able to go to college next year when she graduates from high school.
Karla Martinez: "Yeah, it's kind of scary not know what is going to happen."
Karla says at first, a Florida Prepaid official admitted they had the grandfather's death certificate in their files, and still gave the money to someone claiming to be the grandfather. Then when Karla brought that up to a supervisor they denied they had the death certificate.
Karla Martinez: "It seems like somebody that works at the Florida Prepaid is not doing his or her job.
Not only is Karla angry that Florida Prepaid gave the money to someone, she is fuming that they wont return it to her kids.
Karla Martinez: "This belongs to my kids. That is something that my father-in-law gave it to my kids and somebody else is taking away from them. We are counting on this money for them to go to college."
Well Howard, the money their late grandfather left for college is gone so who has to return it, the person who took it or the Prepaid fund, or does anyone have to return it?
Howard Finkelstein: "The person who contributes the money into the Prepaid fund can take it out and take it away from the kids anytime they want. But since the money was stolen, the Prepaid fund has to return it to the kids account and then they can go after the person who took the money to get reimbursed."
We wanted to know why Florida Prepaid gave the kids college money to a person claiming to be their grandfather. When Prepaid had a copy of his death certificate in the kids files. We wanted to know if this showed other kids college funds could be easily accessed. We had a lot of questions but a spokesman for the Prepaid fund told us per section 1009.98(6) Florida Statute, copied below, we cannot provide information about individual accounts.
They wouldn't tell us if they were returning the college money to Jose and Karla, and then they told Karla she could not discuss any details with us, which is a good sign.
Karla Martinez: "We are in the process of resolving all the issues amicably."
Karla is happy. We don't have to know the details to know what that means.
Karla Martinez: "Yes, I am thank you so much Help me Howard for helping with this issue. If it wasn't for you guys we wouldn't have been where we are right now."
Patrick Fraser: "It took seven months to get this far. Florida Prepaid moved slowly but their late grandfather got what he wanted. His grandchildren's college education taken care of. And who took the kids money? Karla thinks she knows but like many detectives have told me, we know who committed the crime we just can't prove it yet. And in a forgery case, its tough to prove.
Getting an education fighting a costly problem? Feel its time to give them a little higher learning? Prepare to let us give it the old college try. In other words, our best shot.
CONTACT HELP ME HOWARD:
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org (please include your contact phone number when e-mailing)
Reporter: Patrick Fraser at email@example.com