Earlier this year, Everett Mechem, 57, was convicted on 28 counts of wire fraud, two counts of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) fraud, two counts of providing false statements, and one count of theft from the United States.
The conviction came following a five-day trial in U.S. District Court in Greeneville.
On Wednesay, Judge Ronnie Greer sentenced Mechem to four years probation and ordered him to pay $34,280 in restitution. Greer also imposed a $3,300 fine and ordered Mechem perform 200 hours of community service.
Prosecutors had argued 18 to 24 months in prison would be an appropriate sentence.
According to the evidence presented at trial, from January 2009 to July 2013, Mechem, acting as the attorney and representative payee for his wife, Sheila A. Mechem, schemed to defraud the United States government to obtain nearly $37,000 in SSI payments for her to which she was not entitled.
The scheme involved false statements and misrepresentations to the Social Security Administration (SSA) regarding Sheila Mechem’s living arrangements, financial resources, and income.
Everett Mechem reported that he was living separately from his wife and that she had little to no income or resources. Meanwhile, the couple rented a five-bedroom home together in Kingsport, purchased a new home in 2012, and shared in the profits of Everett Mechem’s law practice.
Additionally, Everett Mechem concealed that his wife was working as a paralegal and office manager at the Mechem Law Firm in Kingsport and served as a commercial spokesperson for Everett Mechem’s affiliated business, the Consumer Law Center.
Prosecutors say Shelia Mechem acted as secretary, paralegal, notary, office manager, payroll clerk, supervisor and commercial spokesperson, writing close to 700 checks for business and personal expenses during this time.
“She picked up things...I call it piddling,” Evertt Mechem testified during trial.
While Shelia Mechem worked at the law firm, Everett Mechem collected monthly SSI payments for his wife’s claimed inability to work, court records state.
Everett Mechem was originally indicted in U.S. District Court in Greeneville in July 2015, charged with eight counts, including theft of public money, making false statements and supplemental disability insurance fraud. A superseding indictment was then filed against Mechem in March of this year, charging him with 33 counts, including 28 counts of wire fraud.
Court records state Shelia Mechem applied for SSI (Supplemental Security Income) in July 2007 following an accident where a large tire fell off of a truck and crashed into her vehicle while driving on a Georgia freeway. The accident left her disabled, suffering from central pain syndrome and dystonia, court records state.
Shelia Mechem applied for SSI while living in Georgia, acknowledging that she lived with her husband. About six months later, Everett moved to Kingsport, began working for a law firm and lived with his mother at a retirement community.
In April of 2008, Everett notified the SSA that he had been retained to represent his wife in connection to the SSI claim, then three months later Shelia Mechem began receiving these payments on a monthly basis, court records state.
Prosecutors say in December 2008, Shelia Mechem moved to Kingsport, with both Mechems signing a lease agreement to rent a house on Berkshire Lane. A month later, court records state Everett Mechem told the SSA that his wife lived alone and that his address was still at the retirement home.
However, a month earlier Everett's mother told management at the retirement home that her son was no longer staying with her.
Court records state that in April 2012, the Everett's purchased a home on Mitchell Road.
From January 2009 to July 2013, Everett Mechem devised a scheme to defraud the SSA by falsely representing that his wife lived separately from him, along with the amount of her income and her financial resources.
Prosecutors say Everett failed to disclose to the SSA that his wife worked during this time. Because of these misrepresentations, prosecutors say the Mechem's received more in SSI funds than they were originally entitled to.
In July, the Tennessee Supreme Court suspended Mechem from the practice of law pending further orders from the court. The suspension was based upon the federal court conviction.