By Angeljean Chiaramida STAFF WRITER
Newburyport Daily News
---- — NEWBURYPORT — A local man will spend the next two years on probation following his guilty pleas in Newburyport District Court last week for stashing his Mercedes at a Haverhill garage, after claiming it was stolen and collecting $17,000 from his insurance company.
Eric J. Bernardini, 39, of 78 North End Blvd., Salisbury, pleaded guilty to filing a false vehicle insurance claim, moving the vehicle with the intent to defraud and filing a false vehicle theft report with police.
On each of the first two charges, Judge Allen Swan sentenced Bernardini to one year in the house of correction, suspending the jail time and imposing two years’ probation. On the third charge of filing a false vehicle theft report with Amesbury police, Swan sentenced Bernardini to two years’ probation.
One of the conditions of Bernardini’s probation is to make financial restitution for his crime; however, the amount has yet to be determined.
Charges of larceny of more than $250 by a single scheme and issuing a false statement under penalty of perjury were dropped.
Bernardini’s wife, Jennifer, 37, was also charged with filing a false vehicle insurance claim. She pleaded to sufficient facts, and Swan continued her case without finding, placing her on probation for one year. All other charges against her related to this crime were dismissed, but she still faces two drug-related charges, according to Carrie Kimball-Monahan, spokeswoman for the Essex County district attorney’s office.
Eric Bernardini’s scheme to defraud his insurance company came to the attention of the Governor’s Auto Theft Strike Force Unit of the state police after a tip was received at the Andover barracks.
According to Trooper Nicholas Baggetta, on Jan. 17 an anonymous source reported that a black Mercedes was parked at Superior Auto Detailing on Hilldale Avenue in Haverhill. According to the source, an employee of the company bragged the vehicle was “involved in an insurance scam” and “set to be chopped.”
Court documents indicate that on Jan. 20 Baggetta met with Haverhill police Detective John Moses and both visited the detail shop, finding the 2005 black Mercedes in the parking lot. Baggetta ran a check on the car’s vehicle identification number, learning it had been reported stolen to the Amesbury police in late October 2011.
Officers spoke with the garage owner, Matthew P. McAuliffe, 41, of Old Groveland Road, Haverhill, who said the Mercedes belonged to one of his friends, Eric Bernardini, and it was being stored at the shop for the winter. When told of the tip police received, according to Baggetta’s report, McAuliffe expressed anger at Bernardini.
McAuliffe provided an initial written statement concerning how the car got to his Haverhill garage, stating it was being stored while its owner was in Florida for the winter. McAuliffe said three months prior to the police visit he’d run into Bernardini, who asked if the facility could store his car. McAuliffe said he agreed storage could take place for $500, adding he’d known Bernardini for a long time.
According to one of McAuliffe’s employee, the car was dropped off in late October or early November of 2011 by a man.
Baggetta recovered the vehicle and had it towed to an impound lot, where the car was examined and items within it inventoried.
According to Amesbury police officer Jason Kooken’s report, on Oct. 28, 2011, he was sent to Planet Fitness about 8:30 p.m. to take a report of a stolen car. Upon arrival, Jennifer Bernardini said she’d arrived at the gym around 6 p.m. to work out. When she was ready to leave, she couldn’t find her husband’s Mercedes in the parking lot where she left it. She said she had only one set of keys and the car had been freshly painted.
“Mrs. Bernardini was crying on and off the whole time she was talking to me,” according to Kooken’s report.
According to court documents, Kooken noted he found no broken glass in the parking lot where the car had been parked or drag marks to indicate the car had been towed.
Back at the Amesbury police station, Jennifer Bernardini signed the stolen car report and the police entered the vehicle into the national crime database and issued a “be on the lookout” broadcast in hopes of other agencies spotting the stolen car.
During the process, Kooken learned Eric Bernardini’s Massachusetts driver’s license had been suspended for failure to pay child support.
“Mr. Bernardini was not as upset about the car as he was about learning his license was suspended,” Kooken wrote. “Ms. Bernardini was more upset about the car than her husband.”
As the investigation progressed, Allstate Insurance was contacted to obtain the car’s insurance theft claim file. The insurance claim affidavit was signed by Eric Bernardini for the theft of the car, citing the same scenario as that given to Amesbury police. The affidavit also included the claim that there was only one set of keys in the Bernardinis’ possession with no duplicate sets made. The couple also said they had no knowledge of the whereabouts of the car, which was purchased for $19,499 from Prestige Motor Sales of Malden in December 2010.
Allstate processed the claim, issuing two checks: one to Eric Bernardini for $2,656.96 on Dec. 23, 2011, and another to Wells Fargo Dealer Service, the loan holder, for $14,348.04 on Dec. 22.
On Jan. 25, Baggetta returned to McAuliffe, who, after signing a Miranda Rights form, issued a formal statement, repeating he’d agreed to store Bernardini’s Mercedes for the winter for $500, McAuliffe said. Bernardini dropped off the car, paid $300, saying was going to Florida and had no place to park the car. Bernardini did not leave the keys at that time, saying he was afraid McAuliffe would drive it, according to McAuliffe’s statement.