Jersey City attorney James Lisa pleaded guilty to defrauding clients out of over $2 million, dating back to a case from 2014, U.S. Attorney Philip Sellinger announced.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
“James Lisa used his law license to execute a multimillion-dollar fraud scheme and rip off clients who placed their trust in him. Then, after being charged for that fraud, Lisa committed another when, posing as his own lawyer, he sent a bogus letter to a lender that falsely described the status of his criminal case,” Sellinger said in a statement.
“Lisa’s multiple criminal acts were serious violations of his oath as an officer of the court and a betrayal of his clients’ trust. He will now face justice for these crimes. The people of New Jersey must be able to rely on their attorneys without having to worry that they are being defrauded. Lisa’s guilty plea should reassure the public that our office will bring the full weight of the justice system on attorneys who violate federal the law.”
Lisa, 68, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Kevin McNulty in Newark federal court to a superseding information charging him with one count of wire fraud, one count of aggravated identity theft, one count of obstructing the IRS, one count of failing to file an individual income tax return, and one count of wire fraud while on pretrial release.
In 2014, Lisa was retained by a family to help repatriate millions of dollars that had been transferred by other family members to offshore bank accounts decades earlier. He was also retained to help resolve the tax issues related to the repatriation of the funds.
The following year, Lisa successfully repatriated more than $6 million of the family’s funds, but proceeded to falsely advise the family that the funds remained offshore.
Then in 2017, Lisa provided $4 million of the repatriated funds to the family but continued to falsely represent that the remaining $2 million remained beyond his control.
Lisa falsely told the family that he successfully resolved the tax implications of repatriating the funds.
In 2016, Lisa sent the family a fraudulent IRS “closing agreement” reflecting an agreement with the IRS for the family to pay $3 million in taxes and penalties for the repatriated funds.
He sent the family another fraudulent closing agreement in 2018 reflecting an agreement with the IRS for the family to pay $2 million in taxes and penalties because only $4 million was purportedly repatriated.
In fact, the IRS never entered into these agreements and the IRS employees who purportedly signed the documents never did so.
When one member of the family was audited by the IRS, the IRS issued Lisa a summons for records related to the family’s assets.
In response to the summons, Lisa produced false and fraudulent documents suggesting that the IRS had agreed to closing agreements with the family.
In January 2023, Lisa was arrested after being charged with this fraud scheme and placed on pretrial release. One condition of his pretrial release was that he not commit another crime.
However, just three months later in April, Lisa committed wire fraud when he applied for a $22,000 loan.
In order to obtain the loan, He caused the creation and submission to the lender of a fraudulent document that purported to be a letter from the attorney then representing him in his criminal prosecution.
Lisa also caused the letter to be sent in order to defraud the lender about the status of the criminal prosecution so that the lender would approve the loan.
He also admitted that he failed to file individual income tax returns for tax years 2015 through 2022, and as a result, caused a tax loss to the IRS of at least $550,000.
Lisa has represented high-profile clients ranging from a Pennsylvania man who got pulled over with a truck full of guns while he was on his way to rescue a woman he believed to be in drug trouble in New York in 2017, to the infamous Newport Centre Mall Easter bunny who was arrested after getting into a fist fight while in costume the year prior.
He has faced sanctions from the New Jersey Office of Attorney Ethics dating back to 1995, related to record keeping deficiencies, cocaine usage, practicing law in New York while his license was suspended in New Jersey, and setting up an inappropriate fee-sharing arrangement with a Hudson County Correctional Facility officer, among other things.
After being indicted at the beginning of this year, he also continued to try to represent clients, including a Jersey City Cannabis Control Board meeting that occurred less than two weeks after he’d been charged, as only HCV reported.
The count of wire fraud carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000, or twice the gross loss to the victim or gain to the defendant, whichever is greatest.
The count of aggravated identity theft carries a statutory mandatory penalty of two years in prison, which must run consecutively to any other term of imprisonment, and a fine of $250,000, or twice the gross loss to the victim or gain to the defendant, whichever is greatest.
The count of obstructing the IRS carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. The count of failure to file a tax return carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.
Finally, the count of wire fraud while on pretrial release carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, which must run consecutively to any other term of imprisonment, and a fine of $250,000, or twice the gross loss to the victim or gain to the defendant, whichever is greatest
Lisa’s sentencing is scheduled for January 25th, 2024.