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Friday, 17 April 2015 00:00

Owner, Auto, Tech at Lakeport, CA Shop Charged with Grand Theft, Insurance Fraud

The owner of a Lakeport automotive repair shop and one of his employees have been charged with several felony counts of grand theft and insurance fraud after a state investigation found that they had billed for repairs they hadn't made and overcharged for replacement parts.

Jeff James Havrilla, 63, and Scott Allen DeWeese, 49, both of Lakeport, were arraigned on April 10 in Lake County Superior Court before being booked into the Lake County Jail and released.

Deputy District Attorney Rachel Abelson said a visiting judge heard the case, as all local judges have disqualified themselves.

Both Havrilla and DeWeese are set to return to court on April 24 for further arraignment, which Abelson said will give them the chance to hire attorneys.

Havrilla is owner of Coach Craft Auto Body Repair and Towing Inc., located at 440 N. Main St. DeWeese works as an auto body technician at the shop.

Havrilla and DeWeese each have been charged with five counts of felony grand theft and three counts of felony insurance fraud, according to court records.

Lake County News reached out to Havrilla at Coach Craft on Wednesday to offer him the chance to comment on the case. He did not respond to the request.

Online Bureau of Automotive Repairs records show no disciplinary actions against Coach Craft, which has a valid automobile repair dealer license with the agency through Aug. 31.

Abelson said the case began when Farmers Insurance launched an investigation into allegations that Coach Craft had billed for work it didn't do.

That investigation eventually was submitted to both the Lake County District Attorney's Office and the California Department of Insurance, Abelson said.

California Department of Insurance spokeswoman Madison Voss confirmed to Lake County News that the case initially was brought to them by an insurer.

While Daniel Breitbach of the Bureau of Automotive Repair acknowledged that the agency forwarded a case to the District Attorney's Office, he declined to offer specifics because the case hasn’t been adjudicated.

“The Bureau of Automotive Repair regulates automotive repair and investigates consumer complaints,” said Breitbach. “We enforce the Automotive Repair Act.”

Representatives from both the California Department of Insurance and the Bureau of Automotive Repairs sat down with Abelson at the onset to discuss the case, even before the investigation had been put together. As such,

“This was a very unusual case for me,” she said.

Between March 2011 and July 2013, it's alleged that Havrilla and DeWeese billed for work they didn't do and charged for specific auto parts but instead would use cheaper, inferior aftermarket parts, Abelson said.

In one case, the shop was to have replaced a metal bar needed as a safety feature in a vehicle's bumper. When investigators checked the vehicle, the metal bar hadn't been replaced, according to Abelson.

The five felony grand theft charges for each man are based on instances where the alleged theft totaled more than $950, Abelson said.

Abelson said that $950 amount – or above – for a felony is a result of last November's passage of Proposition 47, which reduced some crimes from felonies to misdemeanors if they fell below that monetary threshold.

Overall, the thefts totaled just over $7,500, Abelson said.

The victims in the case are listed as Farmers Insurance, for false billings submitted between March 2011 and July 2013; Larry Fredricksen, August 2012; Vivian George, June 2012; Juan and Priscilla Ballentene, October 2012; and Diana Mongi, October 2012.

Voss explained that one of the main ways the California Department of Insurance finds out about fraud is the way it happened in this case – from an insurer.

Reports from consumers also are key, Voss said.

“We do receive a lot of referrals from insurers and consumers letting us know they suspect that some fraud is going on,” Voss said. “At that point we will open an investigation.”

Abelson said that, if convicted, Havrilla and DeWeese could face a maximum of five years in local jail, along with fines and probation.We would like to thank Lake County News for permission to reprint this article.

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