Man who once scammed NHL gets 10 years for forgery charges

CLEVELAND (AP) — A man who once tried to pull off an audacious scam to buy the National Hockey League’s New York Islanders was sentenced to 10 years in prison for another fraud case in northeast Ohio.

John Spano Jr., 50, pleaded guilty last month to 16 counts of forgery after being accused of collecting thousands of dollars in commissions from false accounts he’d created while working as a salesman for a company that provides linens to health care facilities. Spano, who was born in New York City, was raised in northeast Ohio.

The charges in Lake County, about 30 miles east of Cleveland, were filed nearly two decades after Spano represented himself as a wealthy Texan and tried to buy the Islanders. With documents showing he was worth hundreds of millions of dollars and the league’s knowledge that he inquired about buying two other franchises, the NHL quickly approved Spano’s purchase of the Islanders for $165 million. Banks agreed to loan him $80 million, with Spano paying the balance.

It took a few months before Spano’s trust-fund facade crumbled when he failed to provide a $5 million down payment. An FBI investigation ensued and Spano pleaded guilty in federal court to theft and forgery charges. He was sentenced in January 2000 to nearly six years in prison and ordered to pay $11.9 million in restitution to the banks, the team owners and others who’d been caught up in his various schemes.

In a documentary released in 2013 and aired on ESPN titled “Big Shot,” Spano says buying the Islanders became “a game with myself.”

“You ride in the right circles and people just stop asking questions,” Spano said.

Spano returned to northeast Ohio after prison and created a new scam when he formed a finance company that was paid thousands of dollars for services that were never delivered. Another federal investigation led to guilty pleas on mail fraud charges and a prison sentence of just over four years.

He was hired as a driver in 2011 by a company called Image First Healthcare Laundry Specialists in suburban Cleveland. The owners, impressed with his work ethic, promoted him to sales. That’s when authorities said he began creating invoices for services that were never ordered or delivered. The judge who sentenced Spano on Thursday ordered him to pay $75,000 in restitution to the company.

Spano’s attorneys did not return phone messages Friday.

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