YOUNGSTOWN — A fireplace salesman who defrauded federal and state disability programs out of more than $684,000 over a 25-year span has been ordered by a federal judge to pay back every cent he stole.
But first, he’ll have to serve one year and one day behind the bars of a federal prison.
Thomas H. Cannell, 62, of Macedonia, was sentenced Aug. 21 by U.S. District Judge Benita Pearson for bilking the Social Security Administration out of $479,288 in Supplemental Security Income and fraudulently receiving disability payments totaling nearly $205,000 from the state of Ohio, all since 1993.
Cannell pleaded guilty in April to theft of government property and wire fraud. The court recommended that Cannell be imprisoned in a facility close enough so his family can visit or a federal medical facility. The prison term will be followed by three years supervised release.
Cannell accidentally gave the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation evidence enough to start an investigation in 2016 after BWC responded to an inquiry from Cannell regarding his benefits.
"One of our claims specialists returned a phone call from Mr. Cannell in 2015 and heard the voicemail greeting, ‘Hello, you have reached Tom at Your Fireplace Shop,’" said Jim Wernecke, director of special investigations for the BWC, after Cannell’s arrest.
Cannell had been entitled to SSI and BWC payments ever since he suffered a work-related injury in 1982.
Despite claiming total disability and receiving benefits for total disability, Cannell returned to work sometime in 1993 without informing Social Security or the BWC, as he was required to do.
Cannell also worked out a way to get paid by his employer, Your Fireplace Shop in Twinsburg, without making the owner aware he was committing fraud. The owner cooperated fully with investigators, who caught Cannell on video working and answering questions about fireplaces posed by undercover BWC agents.
Cannell earned an additional $16,000 per year in commissions selling fireplaces four hours a day. He drove a brand new Cadillac and played golf "nearly every day" during the summer, his former employer said after Cannell was charged.
Reporter Dave O'Brien can be reached at 330-298-1128, firstname.lastname@example.org or @daveobrien_RC.