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Erie couple charged with insurance fraud

By Tim Hahn, Erie Times-News, Pa.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

March 27--An Erie couple who twice reported the theft of most of their belongings in a pair of burglaries at their eastside residence over the summer are accused by city police of making up the crimes in an effort to get cash from their insurance company.

Michael E. Whitcomb, 23, and Elizabeth A. Whitcomb, 24, face charges of making false reports to police, criminal conspiracy, and two counts each of insurance fraud and theft by deception. They are accused of falsely reporting burglaries in the 800 block of East 23rd Street on June 7 and July 5 and seeking nearly $40,000 in insurance payouts, according to case documents filed by Erie police Lt. Dan Spizarny, an insurance fraud investigator.

Police say the Whitcombs received $13,458.32 from their insurance company after reporting that items including dressers, night stands, beds and electronics were stolen June 7. The items were reportedly taken from the basement, and there was no sign of forced entry, Spizarny wrote in the affidavit of probable cause that accompanied the criminal complaints.

On July 5, the Whitcombs told police "everything" was taken from their home in another burglary. The stolen items included couches, dressers, file cabinets, a porch swing, a dining room set, 30 pairs of shoes, 15 coats, dish sets and a foot spa, according to the affidavit.

The Whitcombs submitted a claim for $26,270. Less than two weeks before the reported burglary, they changed their insurance policy limit from $15,000 to $30,000, Spizarny wrote in the affidavit.

Police said the Whitcombs' insurance company asked for proof of the loss, and the couple submitted three online orders. The insurance company and Spizarny contacted the online stores, and they learned that the orders were canceled and items were never shipped, according to the affidavit.

Spizarny said an investigator for the insurance company spoke to the Whitcombs' landlord, who told the investigator that she had gone to the Whitcombs' new home in Erie and spotted the porch swing that was reported stolen July 5. The investigator also learned that the Whitcombs were given the keys to their new home a week before the second burglary, the affidavit said.

The Whitcombs had said their property lost in that burglary was boxed up to move, but they didn't have a new place to move into at the time, Spizarny said.

Spizarny said he also went to their new residence on March 3 and saw many items inside that had been reported stolen.

The Whitcombs were arraigned by Erie 3rd Ward District Judge Tom Carney on Tuesday and were released on $1,000 unsecured bond apiece. Their preliminary hearings are April 4.

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TIM HAHN can be reached at 870-1731 or by e-mail. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ETNhahn.

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(c)2014 the Erie Times-News (Erie, Pa.)

Visit the Erie Times-News (Erie, Pa.) at www.GoErie.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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