Camping offer was too good to be true

Man pleads guilty to mail fraud for "helping" people get rid of campground time shares.

Published August 11, 2006

TAMPA - James and Anna Theissen had been trying to unload their campground membership for nearly a decade.

The Wisconsin couple planned to spend their golden years tooling around campsites in a recreational vehicle. But between annual dues and maintenance fees, their membership with All Seasons Resort - similar to a time share - was growing increasingly burdensome.

So David Cannon's call seemed to be the answer to their prayers.

Cannon, 62, told the couple he would broker the sale of their membership for $6,095. All his Oldsmar company, Tampa Bay Campground Brokers, wanted was $395 up front.

So the Theissens scraped together the money and sent it to an address on Hillsborough Avenue in Tampa. But their sales check never arrived.

"I was so mad," Anna Theissen, 71, said by telephone this week. "We live on a fixed income, and that's a lot of money. We thought it was all legitimate."

The Theissens weren't the only ones taken in by Cannon, according to Richard Abbazia, a spokesman for the Postal Inspectors Service in Tampa. Cannon collected about $200,000 from more than 425 victims, most of them elderly, Abbazia said.

On Thursday, Cannon pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud in U.S. District Court in Tampa. He faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Deborah Barry, chief investigator for the Pinellas County Department of Consumer Protection, said Cannon's scheme was a common one in Florida.

"It's just like time shares," Barry said. "People buy them and then realize they can't unload them."

The plea brings to an end an investigation that stretches back more than a decade, according to court records.

Cannon, who also goes by the name David Cowsky, operated his telemarketing business out of an office at 105 Fairfield St. in Oldsmar.

Indicted in 1997, Cannon was on the lam until 2005, when authorities located him in Chicago. However, it wasn't the first time Cannon had been in trouble, according to court documents.

Cannon's operation was actually a spinoff of another campground membership resale company. In 1992, Charles Angel pleaded guilty to fraud charges after an investigation by the Postal Service into his company, Gulf Coast Campground Resales in Indian Rocks Beach. Cannon had been a salesman at Gulf Coast, court records show.

In the most recent case, the victims owned memberships in campground organizations described as legitimate in the indictment, including Coast to Coast, Outdoor World, Thousand Trails and American Adventures.

Those organizations either provide campground facilities for their members or are affiliated with campgrounds owned by someone else.

The costs of the memberships ranged from about $1,000 to $10,000, and members were required to pay yearly maintenance fees and membership fees, which could be as much as $400.

In most cases, the memberships cannot be canceled; they can only be sold.

Like many con artists, Cannon targeted elderly people, Barry said. He also picked people who lived out of state.

"They're calling all over the U.S.," Barry said. "That's one of the trade secrets to avoid prosecution. You don't want to be caught in the state you're living in."

Cannon's sentencing date has not been set. As for Anna Theissen, she just wants Cannon punished.

"He got away with this for a long, long time," Theissen said. "Let's just hope he learns his lesson."

Carrie Weimar can be reached at 813 226-3416 or cweimar@sptimes.com.