Manchester businessman jailed for mail and wire fraud

MANCHESTER — A Manchester businessman was sentenced to a year in prison yesterday, after pleading guilty in September to federal mail and wire fraud charges.

Charles F. O’Neil, 46, of 157 Pine St., will have to serve one year and one day in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release, during which he will have to pay $182,350 in restitution, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Stearns ordered.

O’Neil ran a used machinery business under the names C.F. O’Neil Inc. and Converting Consultants Inc., in Manchester and Beverly.

His lawyer said he had owned the businesses since 1983, following a family tradition dating to the 19th century.

Over a 10-year period O’Neil defrauded both sellers and buyers of used machinery, prosecutors said. In some instances O’Neil would agree to sell a piece of equipment on behalf of the owner, then never pay the person. In others, he would sell a piece of equipment but never deliver.

His victims were scattered around the country, according to court papers. O’Neil advertised his business through direct mail, faxes, and the Internet.

He would have the buyers send payment either by wire transfer to his bank account at the First National Bank of Ipswich or by check.

In one case he told a buyer in Texas that the never got a check that was mailed, then when the buyer sent a replacement check, O’Neil cashed both.

In another scheme, O’Neil falsely told a seller that he had received payments from a buyer after the seller was threatening to find another broker.

In other instances, O’Neil deposited payments for equipment into his bank account and then used the money for other purposes, leaving him unable to pay sellers for equipment.

Prosecutors alleged that in 2002, O’Neil took $53,000 in payments from a Pennsylvania company for a piece of equipment, then bought himself a 36-foot Hatteras cruiser, which he named “Top Hatt.”

Last July, prosecutors sought to have O’Neil held in custody after learning that he had been charged by Manchester police with an identical scheme involving someone in Missouri in October 2007.

O’Neil remained free but the judge added a restriction on his conditions barring him from access to bank accounts while the case was pending.

The new case, filed in Salem District Court, was dropped by prosecutors last month when the victim said he did not want to travel to Massachusetts for the trial.

In a letter to Judge Stearns this week, O’Neil said he had learned from his mistakes.

“I have learned that my selfishness and irresponsibility have serious consequences both for the clients I took advantage of and for my family,” he wrote. “I cannot believe what I have put my wife, children and family through over the past three years since I was first contacted by postal inspectors.”

He said he “cannot live with the thought” of putting his family through the “nightmare we have been living because of what I did.”

He pleaded with the judge for probation instead of a prison term. “Know that I will make the most of that opportunity, and that I am committed to working day and night until I have repaid every cent I took and re-earned the respect of my family,” he wrote.

His attorney, in a sentencing memorandum, also urged probation, saying O’Neil “made a series of bad decisions during a particularly stressful period of time in his life.”

The attorney pointed to a combination of business pressures brought about by, he said, globalization and personal tragedies, including the death of a newborn twin in 2003 and of his father the following year.

The case was investigated by the United States Postal Inspection Service. It was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Lori Holik and Ryan DiSantis of the U.S. Attorney’s Economic Crimes Unit.

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