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A former Streetsboro businessman who bilked customers and friends alike out of more than $500,000 in an attempt to keep his struggling business afloat is headed to prison for up to a decade.
"It just blew up," John C. Thompson Jr. of Rootstown told Portage County Common Pleas Judge Becky Doherty on Friday at his sentencing hearing in her courtroom, referring to a nearly five-year illegal scheme to keep Thompson Campers open for business.
Doherty called the victims' losses "significant, significant harm" as she sentenced Thompson, 69, to up to 10 years behind bars, based on a joint recommendation worked out by attorney Tim Hart and the Portage County Prosecutor's Office.
Total restitution was ordered in the amount of $512,852.51 to approximately 26 victims. Others likely will have to file civil lawsuits -- and a number already have been filed -- against Thompson to try to get back the money he took, Assistant Prosecutor Steve Michniak said.
"The numbers and amounts of money these folks have lost, and even some of the lower numbers to many, many people that is such a major loss that it will affect so many aspects of their lives," Doherty said. "And because of your selfish behavior, there are a lot of people sitting out there devastated, trying to figure out how they're going to recoup the money. You put so many people in the horrible position of that financial loss."
As part of the joint sentencing recommendation, prosecutors will not oppose Thompson filing a motion with Doherty for early judicial release from his sentence after serving five years in prison, Michniak said. Thompson, who has chronic health problems, "understands there is no guarantee on that," he said.
Michniak said Thompson "spun into a spiral the way his business was run" because of his "floor plan" -- paying the interest only on the merchandise on his sales floor -- and "got himself in so deep, in his mind the only way out was the promise of future loans and future help. He began to shadily sell campers and keep the money and sell more and keep more money and borrow money from people he wished he could pay back."
That money was going to pay his bills, personal debts, for homes and properties and "before he knew it he was hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt," Michniak said.
Facing $65,000 per month in overhead costs, attorney Tim Hart said, Thompson "hoped to get a bank loan" to pay back the more than two-dozen customers, creditors and friends he stole or borrowed money from in the past five years.
"When John started this path, after having lived 65 years of a decent, honorable life, I can't tell you how many people have told me how much of a fine gentleman he was to do business with and work with," Hart said.
Thompson "certainly wishes he had walked away before he harmed all these people," his attorney said. "I hope something better can be achieved by him in the coming years than what happened in the last few."
Doherty said she understood that Thompson's business losses were "spiraling out of control," but that he prospered for years before he "began taking advantage of people" for both financial and personal reasons.
"You knew exactly what you were doing," Doherty added. "The idea you wanted to pay them back is beside the fact, whether you thought you could pay them back or not is beside the point you defrauded these people, and you knew exactly what you were doing."
Thompson pleaded guilty in February to 23 felony theft and other financial charges following an investigation by the Streetsboro Police Department and the Portage County Prosecutor's Office. They included theft from a person in a protected class, grand theft and passing bad checks
Streetsboro police said one of Thompson's scams went like this: He would accept campers or trailers on consignment from their owners, then sell the property, pocket the money and keep the property. That left the seller without their money and a title to a camper they didn't want, and the buyer without a camper, title or their money.
Thompson also used customers' credit card information for purchases they never made, sometimes after business hours, Streetsboro Police Chief Darin Powers said.
Victims in the case came forward "in ones and twos," Michniak said, "and by the time we were able to weed through all these reports, we were upwards of over 30 different people having complaints about their business dealings with the same theme throughout: Being defrauded by Mr. Thompson through his legitimate business."
Thompson eventually cooperated with investigators and was able to provide them with additional details regarding the thefts, Michniak said.
In one case, The Davey Tree Expert Co. of Kent paid Thompson more than $171,440 in November 2015 for 12 equipment trailers. When the merchandise was not delivered, Davey Tree sued Thompson in Common Pleas Court.
Thompson failed to respond to the lawsuit, and Judge Laurie Pittman found in the company's favor late last year, ordering Thompson to pay back the full amount plus interest. The company also filed a lien on Thompson's property to recoup the money, according to court records.
Who did Thompson think he was? Trump?
There is an appliance dealer in Portage County that is just as bad.