DALLAS (CN) – A man pleaded guilty Friday to defrauding investors of more than $1 million by masquerading as a lawyer. Joseph Kelly Lara was arrested in 2008 and charged with posing as a securities attorney and investment professional named Nick DeAngelis Mancuso.
“Using that identity, he fraudulently offered and sold securities, including stock of Google, Inc., that he never actually possessed,” the Department of Justice said in a statement. “During this time frame, Lara’s fraud caused more than $1 million in losses to investors and financial institutions located in several states, but mostly in North Texas.”
According to court documents, Lara used the Mancuso identity from May 2003 to Jan. 7, 2005. Prosecutors say Lara forged Arizona court documents that appeared to have changed his legal name to Nick DeAngelis Mancuso. He used those forgeries to obtain a Texas identification card with his photograph and the Mancuso name. By using the fictitious identity, Lara concealed from investors an earlier prison sentence in Arizona for fraud and theft.
Prosecutors say Lara falsely represented to investors and banks that he held a law degree and a master of business administration degree from the University of Minnesota, and that he was a securities attorney with a successful and lucrative career in New York City’s financial industry.
Two counterfeit diplomas were prominently displayed at the offices of his bogus investment firm, Atlantic Equity and Investments LLC, in Irving, where he maintained an office space and employed office staff from December 2003 to January 2005.
Through this bogus firm, Lara raised money from investors by promising to invest it in stocks of several companies. The money never was used to purchase stocks on behalf of investors, however. Prosecutors say Lara had associate Brett Leslie Clarke, of Phoenix, pose as a fictitious stockbroker using the pseudonym “Ben Goodson” to reassure investors that their money was being invested in stocks.
“Although his investment firm was bogus, Lara maintained a lifestyle consistent with financial and professional success,” prosecutors say. “Using investor funds, and other fraudulently obtained funds, including money he had fraudulently obtained from Compass Bank and First State Bank of Thermopolis, Wyoming, Lara drove Mercedes Benz and BMW automobiles, resided in a luxury penthouse in the Las Colinas area of Irving, Texas, and spent lavishly on travel and entertainment.”
Chief U.S. District Judge Sidney Fitzwater accepted the plea. Lara faces up to 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and restitution. A sentencing date has not been set.