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Three arrested in investigation of a/c sales tactics

A Hernando County Sheriff's Office investigation into devious sales tactics by a Pasco County-based air-conditioning business landed three employees in jail Friday.

The employees did work in Hernando for a company called U.S. Air Conditioning. The three men were charged with exploitation of the elderly and attempted grand theft in a scheme where they sold new units to unsuspecting customers who didn't need them.

It's not the first time the company faced scrutiny. In 2002, a Times investigation found that company employees pressured or persuaded elderly residents in the Tampa Bay area to spend thousands of dollars on unnecessary or overpriced repairs.

Dozens filed complaints with government agencies and a number of arrests were made as the Hernando County State Attorney's Office and the state Attorney General's Office launched criminal inquiries.

Four years later, arrest reports suggest many of the same tactics are still in use.

Dennis Garlock, one of the employees arrested Friday, admitted that he punched a hole in an elderly victim's air-conditioning system's copper coil with a knife during a maintenance check. He then planned to install a new unit without a permit and outside the purview of his employer, according to arrest reports.

Garlock, of Port Richey, then told investigators his bosses indirectly pressured him to make sales. They don't explicitly tell him to sabotage units but only pay him $5 per home visit, the reports state.

Two other company employees arrested were Stanley Lachowicz, 40, and Steven Buhler, 32, both of Port Richey.

A Hernando Sheriff's Office spokeswoman said more victims could come forward as word about the company's methods spreads.

John Frank can be reached at jfrank@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6114.

Three arrested in investigation of a/c sales tactics 03/28/08 [Last modified: Friday, March 28, 2008 7:43pm]
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