The grand jury handed down the indictment against Michael Anthony Nelson, 38, of Orlando, Fla., on Thursday, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. He is charged with six counts of mail fraud, seven counts of wire fraud, and counts of computer fraud and aggravated identity theft.
Nelson is accused of stealing the identity of attorney Michael S. Nelson, who had an inactive status with the State Bar of California and was also a registered attorney in New York in 2006, when the scheme is alleged to have taken place. The real attorney was living in New Jersey at the time.
Federal prosecutors say Nelson, who was not licensed to practice law in any state, created a fictitious law firm, "Nelson & Associates," for which he rented offices in Atlanta and Los Angeles and created business cards labeling himself "managing partner" of the firm.
To rent the office space and obtain credit cards, Nelson allegedly used the name of an existing law firm, Nelson, Tyler and Langer, which is based in Seattle and has no relationship with the accused Nelson, prosecutors said.
Nelson then hired office staff and attorneys to work for his firm, telling them and clients that he was Michael S. Nelson and using information from his biography that he found online, according to prosecutors.
He also allegedly reactivated the real attorney's California bar status and ordered membership documentation in his name, including a bar card, and advertised himself on legal Web sites and Craigslist.
Prosecutors say Nelson was able to scam two Bay Area residents out of $35,000 in legal fees.
The maximum penalty for each count of mail and wire fraud is 20 years in federal prison; computer fraud is five years in prison; and aggravated identity theft is two years in prison.