News article from the Providence Journal here
The husband of a Johnston state legislator admitted in federal court Tuesday to illegally collecting more than $58,000 in Social Security benefits over eight years by claiming he had no address when he actually lived with his wife and children.
Henry A. Fellela Jr., 56, pleaded guilty to a total of five counts on charges of aggravated identity theft, credit card fraud, Social Security fraud and theft of government funds as his wife, Rep. Deborah A. Fellela, D-Johnston, looked on. He faces 37 years in prison and $1.25 million in fines at his sentencing July 1 before U.S. District Judge John J. McConnell Jr.
Fellela had been preparing to go to trial when he decided to enter the plea.
According to court records, Fellela first applied for supplemental Social Security benefits in April 1999. Those benefits were terminated, however, after he was convicted of credit card fraud and mail theft.
He was released from prison on those charges in January 2004 and began serving a 21-month supervised release term at his 3 Diaz St. home in Johnston. That March, Fellela again applied for Social Security benefits, this time claiming an inability to work due to mental illness. He collected $58,207 in benefits that he was not entitled to because he falsely stated on the application that he was not living anywhere permanently.
Fellela admitted not putting an address on the application and not updating the government that he was living at 3 Diaz St., but denied Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard W. Rose’s characterization that he represented himself as “homeless.”
“He does not believe he said he was homeless,” his lawyer, Olin W. Thompson III, of the federal public defender’s office, said.
The credit card fraud charges are related to his theft of an 85-year-old Smithfield man’s credit card. Citibank alerted Raymond Houde Jr. in September 2010 that three purchases had been made on his card, which he never received at his rural address. The first was a 55-inch Samsung television with 3-D glasses and a movie kit from Best Buy in Framingham, Mass. The second took place at the Casual Male Big & Tall store in North Attleboro, and the third was a gas purchase in Cumberland. In all, more than $3,000 in spending was credited to the card without Houde’s permission, Rose said.
Fellela also admitted in 2009 to fraudulently using another man’s credit card to withdraw $400 in cash from a credit union’s ATM in New Hampshire. He received a suspended six-month prison term in that case.
Deborah Fellela was first elected in November 2006. The Fellelas have four children.