20 Famous Cases of People Practicing Law without a Law Degree

Frank Abagnale, Jr.

Obviously, the most famous case of a person practicing law without a law degree or license is the one featured in the Leonardo DiCaprio movie “Catch Me If You Can” where Leonardo played Franke Abagnale, Jr.  It was a great movie.

However, Frank Abagnale isn’t the only famous case of a person practicing law without a law degree.  There are many such cases in the United States and Canada.  Below we feature 20 of them:

1. Catch Me If You Can – Frank Abagnale, Jr.

Frank Abagnale, Jr. is probably the most famous fake lawyer. He faked being a doctor and being a pilot too. His life story was made into the movie Catch Me If You Can starring Leonardo di Caprio who played him. In the movie, Tom Hank played the FBI agent who caught him.

Abagnale says that it was much easier to fake being an attorney than faking being a doctor or pilot. He says that most attorneys act like fakers because they have to pretend that they know what they are doing in front of clients, even when they do not.

In real life, while running his con game, Abagnale actually studied alone, without attending law school, and passed the California Bar Exam on his third try.

When he was eventually caught, he did not get a long prison sentence because he worked with the FBI as a fraud consultant.

2. “Scary Man” – Leaford George Cameron

Leaford George Cameron, age 65, has creepy eyes that look like the can hypnotize a person against their will. He got the nickname “Scary Man” because of this. He practiced law for more than 12 years in Pennsylvania without having a license.

He was arrested in 2013 for impersonating an attorney and continued doing so even after his arrest. Investigators alleged that Cameron operated an illegal law practice starting in 2003 that defrauded a total of at least 74 “clients” coming from five states and some came from foreign countries. He preyed on low-income people and immigrants while providing lousy legal services.

Cameron was convicted during February 2018. On July 11, 2018, he was sentenced to 12 years in federal prison, approximately one year for each year he faked being an attorney.

3. Fake Lawyer was President of County’s Bar Association – Kimberly Kitchen

Kimberly Kitchen, age 47, practiced law for over a decade in Pennsylvania without having a law degree or a real attorney’s license.

She got a position with the firm of BMZ Law by forging documents that included fake results from the bar exam, a fake license to practice law, and a check supposedly used to pay for the state attorney’s registration fee.

Kitchen worked with more than 30 clients on their legal needs for estate planning. She served as the President of the Huntingdon County Bar Association before her fake credentials were discovered.

At her trial, her legal defense was that she provided good legal work. This was true. Her clients were very satisfied with her work. However, this did not convince the judge to let her off because she clearly broke the law.

What’s cooking for Kimberly Kitchen now? She is serving time for her sentence of two to five years in prison for the conviction on March 25, 2016, after she lost her appeal on May 16, 2017.

4. Needs a Spellchecker – Reginald Taylor

Reginald Taylor, age 40, was able to fake being a lawyer and get clients to trust him even though he misspelled the word of “associates” in the name of his fake legal practice of Taylor & Associaties. He used this misspelled name on social media and on a website.

Taylor practiced law for many years starting in 2013. He used a stolen bar number from another attorney who was licensed in Missouri. He had a fake diploma from the University of Missouri. Taylor learned about the law from his many criminal convictions for fraud, forgery, drug possession, and auto theft.

Taylor was caught in November 2016, when he wrote a bad check to the court to pay the fine of one of his clients that he successfully defended. The court clerk investigated Taylor’s firm because of the bad check and the truth came out about Taylor’s fraud.

Taylor’s trial has not yet finished. If convicted, it is likely he will serve considerable time due to his many prior offenses. Let’s hope he has a good lawyer now, a real one, to defend him.

5. Wife Runs Fake Law Firm for Husband’s Embezzlement Scheme – Jason Thorne

Jason Thorne worked as the in-house, licensed, patent attorney for the Hunter Douglas Company. He secretly set up a shell company in his wife’s name called Patent Services Group. He listed her as an attorney on the company’s documents with the hourly rate of $125 to $300 even though she was an aerobics instructor.

Over a period of 14 years, he stole millions from the company he worked for by using his fake attorney wife’s name. He got about $40,000 per month by creating fake invoices from the Patent Services Group. These invoices were for the supposed legal work of conducting patent searches for the Hunter Douglas Company. Thorne had the authority to approve the payment of these bills. For many years, no one noticed.

Thorne was caught when another employee at the company became suspicious because the bills from Patent Services Group became so large. He was sentenced to 71 months in federal prison and to pay $4.84 million in restitution. His wife got off because there was not sufficient proof of her direct knowledge and participation in the scheme.

6. Native Man Claims Exemption from Canadian Law – Ralph Goodwin

Ralph Goodwin, age 69, is going to jail for defying a court order to stop practicing law without the proper credentials.

Goodwin calls himself a “speaker of law” and a “law chancellor.” He said he was granted these titles by a native chief in Saskatchewan. The Canadian Supreme Court ruled that Goodwin is not a lawyer under Canadian law. The judge said Goodwin’s ignorance in legal matters might harm the most vulnerable people in need of legal counsel. Goodwin’s defense was that the court has no authority over him.

The judge sentenced Goodwin to serve 30 days in jail for contempt of court. He warned him if he continues with the illegal practice of law he will face another contempt violation. Goodwin told the court he plans to appeal the matter to the United Nations.

7. Suspended Lawyer Cons Parents with Special-Needs Children – Howard D. Deiner

Howard D. Deiner sometimes had a license to practice law; other times he did not. He told everyone he was an attorney, even when he was not licensed in a jurisdiction or for federal court.

He conducted business in such a sloppy way that he did not even have the required attorney’s trust account to maintain client’s funds separate from his operating business. He took money on retainer and then sometimes did not do the legal work or botched up the cases so badly that they were lost. All the while, he told his clients lies about what was happening.

Deiner preyed on the most vulnerable people who had children with special needs because they were willing to pay a lot to get help with their claims.

In 2011, Deiner was convicted of fraud and sentenced to four years in prison. However, the judge suspended three of the four years, which meant that Deiner only had to go to prison for a year. The sentencing was fairly light; however, the victims were happy that he was held accountable for his deceit. He is permanently disbarred from being an attorney. Let’s hope that actually stopped him from practicing law.

8. Fake Lawyer Used Nice Office to Bilk Clients – David Koraca

David Koraca had everything needed in order to appear to be a top attorney. He had a fake diploma from Harvard Law School. He had an impressive resume of fake experience that included representing major entertainment companies. He maintained a fancy office in downtown Boston. He even used the better-sounding alias of David Corazza, Esq.

His impressive presentation allowed him to con at least two women and four others out of a total of $32,000. He was just getting started when he was caught. Koraca’s real background includes criminal convictions in four states for burglary, fraud, grand theft, and kidnapping. He went to prison many times before faking being an attorney.

For being a fake lawyer, on November 3, 2016, Koraca received a sentence of two to three years in state prison and must pay restitution to the people he bilked.

9. Fake Lawyer Targets Lonely Women – Phillip Asher

Phillip Asher, age 47, from Georgia, befriended women in southeastern states and in the Midwest. He told them he was an attorney to con them out of money. He also used extortion methods.

He was caught when the owner of a Chinese restaurant, where Asher used to work, told authorities about Asher’s attempt to extort $300,000 by threatening to have a family member deported. Law enforcement set up a sting operation that caught Asher red-handed. Asher was arrested receiving the marked extortion money at the Columbia Bank in Columbia, South Carolina.

Asher pled guilty in July 2018 and is awaiting sentencing. He could receive up to 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

10. Woman Preys on Illegal Immigrants – Micallela Aguilera Coleman

Undocumented immigrants in the United States that seek legal counsel often are conned by people pretending to be immigration attorneys.

In April 2015, Micallela Aguilera Coleman, also known as Michelle Christine Morales, was arrested in Huntington Beach, California. She was charged with the crimes of the unauthorized practice of law and grand theft. Investigators alleged that she took money from vulnerable illegal immigrants for many years. In many cases, she provided fake documents and legal services that did nothing to help them.

Her criminal activities were uncovered by a special report done by ABC News, which noted that the people she stole money from where afraid to come forward due to their undocumented status in the United States.

She was convicted of these crimes in Tulare County, Orange County, and San Diego County. She was then transferred to Michigan where she was wanted for similar crimes and charged with fraud. She remains in jail while her trials are continuing.

11. Fake Divorce Lawyer – Ricardo Brutus

In May 2012, Ricardo Brutus, age 38, who is the nephew of Andre Pierre was arrested. Pierre was serving as the North Miami Mayor when Brutus was arrested. This was the second time that Brutus was arrested for being a fake lawyer.

Brutus was a paralegal who pretended to be a divorce lawyer. He forged the names of licensed attorneys on marriage dissolution petitions that he filed with the Florida courts. He pled guilty and was sentenced in May 2015 to serve three months in jail, followed by probation for four years. He also had to pay $21,000 in restitution.

12. Cops Fake Being Attorneys to Trick Inmate – Doug Brannon and Pat Henry

In 2008, two police detectives, Doug Brannon and Pat Henry, in Monroe County, Tennessee pretended to be federal defense attorneys. They did this to get incriminating information from an inmate, John Edward Dawson, who was being held in jail on drug distribution and theft charges.

The detectives convinced Dawson to plead guilty and they also convinced him to refuse to cooperate with his real public defender. Dawson told his public defender that he was being helped by a “federal lawyer.” The public defender was so surprised by this statement and Dawson’s refusal to cooperate that she requested a psychiatric evaluation of Dawson.

Dawson was convicted. However, when the case was under appeal, the truth came out and all the charges were dismissed. The detectives in this case, who faked being attorneys, were never charged with any crime and continued to be employed.

13. N.Y. Man Worked as Fake Immigration Attorney for Decades – Victor M. Espinal

It took until 2009, after numerous complaints, for Victor M. Espinal to be charged with pretending to be an immigration attorney. Espinal defrauded Latino immigrants since 1992. He maintained an office in the Bronx, New York. His business card identified him as an attorney for the Immigrant Affairs Office of the N.Y. Legal Defense Unit. He falsely claimed to be a licensed attorney in California as well. He was not licensed in New York or California.

Clients hired him for help get green cards or visas. Hundreds of clients paid thousands of dollars to Espinal. They never received anything for their money, except maybe a deportation.

After his arrest, 54 lawyers volunteered to help the victims. About 125 of the victims showed up at the free clinic offered by the New York Bar Association. They were given advice on their cases and options of how to find more legal help at reduced rates or on a sliding scale. Espinal pled guilty and got sentenced for four to seven years.

14. Ex-Convict Pretends to Be Lawyer – Tahir Malik

Tahir Malik pretended to be a lawyer in Chicago for many years, even though he had previously been convicted of burglary, forgery, and shoplifting. He had no legal training. His only legal experience came from being a criminal defendant.

Malik represented clients in traffic cases, criminal cases, foreclosures, and administrative actions. He was arrested in 2011. He was charged with three felonies for impersonating an attorney. During the arrest, investigators found notes on 60 cases in his briefcase.

The office of the State Attorney announced that anyone who felt that they did not get adequate legal representation in any case overseen by Malik had the right to reopen their case. Dozens of cases had to be re-tried because of Malik’s fraud. Malik was sentenced in July 2011 to two years in prison.

15. UK Man Pretends to be a Lawyer and a Brain Surgeon – Amir Saleem

It takes some audacity to pretend to be a lawyer (called a barrister in the UK) and to get away with it for years; however, also claiming a fake brain surgeon is almost too much to believe.

Amir Saleem was a serial con man like the famous Frank Bangle, Jr. Saleem successfully represented clients in court. Sometimes he won their cases, despite having no real legal credentials. He conned his girlfriend out of money. He convinced some people he was a medical doctor, who consulted with a local hospital on brain surgery cases.

Over a period of more than two decades, Saleem successfully pulled off his status as a fake lawyer. He even took on some high profile cases. One case was attended by a team from the BBC who was making a documentary about the trial.

Besides some surprising legal victories, Saleem left a long trail of victims that he conned out of money. In a strange twist, the truth came out about Saleem’s fraud and cons, when he won a legal case in court for a client that sued another con man.

Saleem was arrested in 2012. He pled guilty to the illegal activities that he started in 1997, which eventually led to forming the bogus Century Law firm. Saleem went to jail for four years and four months.

16. Man Pretends to be Lawyer to Avoid Eviction – Vernon Scott

A New Jersey man, Vernon Scott, was arrested for pretending to be the attorney of his landlord.

Vernon Scott was summoned to appear at eviction proceedings. Just prior to making his appearance, Scott sent some faxes to the court. These faxes were faked to look like they came from the landlord’s attorney’s office. These fake faxes asked the court to either postpone or dismiss the eviction action. The court clerk figured out they were not real.

This was not the first time Scott tried to use fake documents. He attempted to get a New Jersey driver’s license using fraudulent information. H

Scott was charged with three counts of forgery, three counts of false impersonation and one count of filing false records. For his efforts at attempting to be a fake lawyer, he spent some time in county jail.

17. Border Patrol Guard Pretends to be an Immigration Attorney – Frederico Garcia

A now-fired U.S. Custom and Border officer pled guilty to fraud and impersonating an immigration lawyer. His scheme was carried out over a three year period from November 2015 to May 2018. He used a fake business called Justice International to charge fees that were paid by legal and illegal immigrants to assist with the filing of immigration documents.

Garcia will be sentenced on January 17, 2019. He may go to prison for up to 20 years.

18. A Real Lawyer Hires a Fake Lawyer – Inayat Kassam

Toronto attorney, Dennis Yang, needed another attorney to expand his law firm in Canada. He was conned by Inayat Kassam into hiring him. Kassam used a phony law degree that Kassam purchased online, which included the documentary proof of a diploma and a very convincing faked school transcript.

Yang was fooled because Kassam talked and acted like a real attorney. After being hired, Kassam brought in new clients to the law firm. They were new immigrants and very vulnerable. Kassam gained their trust and got them to give the firm a lot of money by maxing out their credit cards or taking out a second mortgage on their homes.

Yang did not like Kassam’s reckless behavior and that Kassam would not take directions from him. After only a month, Kassam quit. However, the severe damage had already been done. Yang had to shut down the new office after Kassam left. Yang estimates that he lost about $100,000.

This was the third law firm that Kassam destroyed with his con game that eventually caught up to him. Kassam was convicted of fraud and sentenced to three years in prison.

19. Church Leader Arrested for Being Fake Lawyer – Melva Washington

Melva Washington was the leader of the Anointed Vision Church in Duluth, Georgia. She used the church to operate an illegal law practice among other things. She claimed to be an attorney and an accountant.

Upon investigation, it turns out that the church was also a fake. It simply served as a front for the rest of the illegal operations. Washington was arrested during March 2018 in a raid by the Homeland Security. She was charged with illegally operating a church, a law practice, a tax preparation business, and for providing unlicensed childcare services. One of her schemes was to sell fake Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA) documents for $1,200.

Washington now faces charges of fraud, forgery and the unauthorized practice of law. She is being held in jail without bail while she awaits trial.

20. Fake Lawyer Defrauds Illegal Immigrants

An epidemic of fake immigration attorneys are preying on illegal immigrants that are in the United States. These undocumented people are easy targets because they are very afraid to talk to authorities in the U.S. They will not go to law enforcement, even if they have been ripped off by a fake attorney.

Edgardo Guerrero, age 68, is an example of these fraudsters. He operated out of Los Angeles and promised to help illegal immigrants who were seeking lawful permanent residence in the United States. He told undocumented immigrants that he was an immigration attorney. He charged them thousands of dollars and not one obtained legal status with his help.

California’s Attorney general Xavier Becerra says that current administration’s policies coming from Washington are creating such fear that it makes people without legal status very vulnerable for exploitation by those practicing law without a law degree.

Guerrero was arrested in March 2018. He was charged with fraud, grand theft, and for offering immigration consulting services without a license and a bond, which is a legal requirement in California. He is in jail and being held on $80,000 bail pending trial.

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