Trouble knocked on a 78-year-old Powell man's door and he answered -- to the tune of more than $40,000.

Months of legal and financial headaches later, Billy Cornelius says he wants to share his story in the hope of warning someone else.

"The one good thing to come out of this was that I got an education," Cornelius said.

That education began last spring when he met Lionel "Butch" Triplett. The 43-year-old Springfield-based businessman was soliciting tree-trimming services in the city by going door to door.

Investigators said Triplett's trimming business is a legitimate one, although it provided him with a cover story.

While trimming trees, Triplett approached Cornelius about a side business that entailed cabling together tree limbs to prevent them from falling on homes. He said he was looking for investors.

As a show of "good faith," Cornelius said Triplett gave him a $17,000 check, which bounced days later.

"He went to both my neighbors before me. It's his way of getting in," Cornelius said. "I had some suspicions; he always had a reason for something not going right. He's very good about explaining mistakes."

Soon came a story about a sick daughter, whom Triplett said had a life-threatening health condition that caused him to travel out of state for her treatment.

"He was a very good conversationalist. He was fake-crying that his daughter was going to die, threatening to commit suicide," Cornelius said. "I used up my credit cards; I maxed them out. I kept asking about all the money -- I kept asking to see (his daughter). I wanted to meet her but I never did."

In total, Cornelius lost about $45,000 in cash and car rentals.

"This is a crime that could easily happen in Powell, especially as our community ages," said Ryan Pentz, the Powell police detective who arrested Triplett. "Mr. Triplett was a smooth talker. He tugged at (Cornelius') heart to get where he wanted to get. For him, the opportunity is right there."

Pentz said investigators learned Triplett does have a daughter, but she is not sick. They found photos on social media of Triplett taking vacations with the money he claimed was going to pay medical bills, he said.

"His daughter was not ill," Pentz said. "None of the money went to any illness; it was all used for his personal life."

Powell law requires solicitors obtain a permit that includes a criminal background check. Once solicitors have the proper permit, they are given an official lanyard from Powell with photo identification.

"If they don't have the proper ID, then (residents) should contact us so we can tell them to leave. That law is to help protect residents and we want people to utilize that," Pentz said. "(Triplett) friended him; he gained his trust. If people are telling you this type of story, go talk to your family, your closest friends or your neighbors -- or better yet, the police department, because we want to prevent crimes, too."

Triplett pleaded guilty to felony theft and was sentenced May 21 in Delaware County Common Pleas Court to 30 months in prison. Calls to his attorney seeking comment were not returned.

"Mr. Cornelius has a great heart and (Triplett) just went after it," Pentz said. "I could never imagine using my children as a way of getting money. I can't fathom how a grown man could do that."

Triplett was ordered to pay restitution, although Cornelius said he doesn't expect to get his money back. In his victim impact statement to the court, Cornelius said he believes deceiving people is in Triplett's DNA.

"I have always tried to help people. It made me feel good. Then Butch happened," Cornelius said. "Shame on you."

For more on Powell's solicitor program, including a list of approved solicitors, visit cityofpowell.us/police-agency/solicitors.

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