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Fmr. Celino's Pizza owner arrested after customers reported overcharges

Some customers charged 10 times their actual bill, according to JSO

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The owner of a Jacksonville pizza restaurant was arrested after dozens of customers reported being overcharged, some saying their credit cards were charged 10 times their bill, according to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.

Elvan Kocak, the owner of Celino's Pizza on Cesery Boulevard, was arrested Sunday at his home in East Arlington. His arrest warrant lists 34 transactions from customers who said they were overcharged anywhere from $100 to $300 between March and December of 2017.

An investigation into Celino's began as the result of tips made to Crime Stoppers of Northeast Florida. According to the report, about $20,000 was taken from customers.

Investigators with the Secret Service spoke to four ex-employees of the restaurant, the arrest warrant stated. All had vague knowledge of the overcharges and no one knew specifically how much money was taken.

According to the report, one ex-employee said she was told by Kocak to tell customers his bank was hacked. Another ex-employee told agents, "Snitches get stitches."

Kocak, 28, was eventually pulled in for questioning last month, the Sheriff's Office said. He admitted he had business and gambling debt, and was sending money to Costa Rica to pay the gambling debt.

Benjamin Lovick and Niccera Lovick took over the restaurant in October and said they were blindsided by all of the baggage that came along with the restaurant and its crooked reputation.

"We are not thieves. We didn't steal anybody's money. We are not looking to steal anybody's money," said Benjamin Lovick.

News4Jax stopped by Kocak's house on Tuesday. Although no one answered the door, Kocak was reached by phone call. When asked about the accusations, Kocak said all of the customers got their money back.

Kocak also told News4Jax he is "not a thief, and there is more to the story."

The new owners said the Celino's sign will soon be coming down. They plan to name the restaurant Foreign Benji's Restaurant and Pizzeria, and they have a grand opening scheduled for New Year's Eve.

About the Authors:

Florida-born multi-media journalist pays special attention to issues in St. Johns County.