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Port Richey man charged in insurance scam

An employee of a company that services electronics equipment was arrested Monday and charged with insurance fraud after allegedly lying about damages to equipment that he said could be covered by an Allstate insurance policy.

John David Irwin, 24, of Port Richey, was released from the West Pasco Detention Center after posting $1,500 bail. He is charged with two counts of insurance fraud following a four-month investigation by the state Department of Insurance's Division of Insurance Fraud.

Irwin was warehouse manager and estimator for Electronic Service Specialists Inc., which has offices in Port Richey, Hudson and Palm Harbor. He had worked for the company about a year and a half, said Elliot Satinoff, who owns the company with his brothers, Philip and Martin.

Satinoff said Irwin has been suspended and the company is conducting its own internal investigation. The company has 32 employees.

"It's devastating," Satinoff said of Irwin's arrest. "We're very disturbed by it."

In its 15 years of business, the company never has had complaints from patrons, he said.

The insurance department began its investigation after receiving a tip from a customer of the company, insurance fraud investigator Lynn Stonebridge said. She said the investigation continues and additional arrests could be made.

Stonebridge took three televisions and a videocassette recorder to the Holiday location where Irwin waited on her. She knew what was wrong with each piece of equipment, but Irwin claimed to have found other problems that required a higher bill, Stonebridge said.

"He would add to the bill and also lie so that it could be filed as a claim" (against an Allstate insurance policy), she said.

Irwin told her the VCR had been damaged by a power surge and one TV had a damaged circuit board. Neither problem existed. Both problems would be covered by insurance, he allegedly told Stonebridge. The second TV should have required a repair that cost $70, but Stonebridge said Irwin came up with an additional problem so the bill totaled $110.

She made a number of trips into the shop, always dealing with Irwin, and on one visit she took in a TV she said was owned by her neighbor. Stonebridge said she asked Irwin if the repair bill for that TV could be added to her total, and Irwin said he would do that and tack the charges onto the insurance claim.

The total claim was $295 with a $100 deductible.

Stonebridge said there is no way to know how many patrons of Electronic Service Specialists Inc. might have been part of fraudulent insurance claims. Nor could she say how many other employees, if any, might be involved. Stonebridge did say Irwin was not the employee involved in the alleged incident that led to the tip from a customer.