Fake lawyer facing multiple charges
Man charged in 'Catch Me If You Can' movie-style scam
By Sharif Durhams
of the Journal Sentinel
Dec. 24, 2010 |(80) Comments
The website advertising legal services from Thomas J. Lyon & Associates
boasts about Lyon's victories for clients. "We win cases all the time,"
the site says. "It's what we do."
Lyon has an office on Milwaukee's northwest side filled with legal
pleadings and court filings. He quizzed a witness last month in a
divorce case before a Milwaukee Circuit Court judge, and he's
represented clients in small claims proceedings.
But Lyon is not an attorney. He's been using another person's Wisconsin
Bar license number, that of attorney Thomas J. Lyons who has a practice
in St. Paul, Minn., according to a criminal complaint.
Lyon also has used the notary stamp of a dead notary public and forged
the signature of court officials, the complaint says.
Prosecutors on Friday charged Lyon with practicing law without a
license, theft, forgery and related charges tied to Lyon's legal practice.
His receptionist said Lyon bragged that he is like the lead character in
the 2002 movie "Catch Me If You Can," in which a man cons millions of
dollars by posing as a pilot, a doctor and an attorney.
The receptionist also said she was one of several prostitutes working
for the escort service "Lacuna Limited" that Lyon had set up in
Milwaukee. She told an investigator that she helped to recruit new
prostitutes for the escort service.
Lyon's secretary told authorities that Lyon kept records about his
escort service on a computer. The Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office is
examining Lyon's computer files, according to the complaint. None of the
charges filed Friday is related to prostitution.
A probation agent told a detective with the Milwaukee County Sheriff's
Office that Lyon is on probation after convictions of grand larceny,
stalking and false imprisonment in New York. Lyon's probation was
transferred to Wisconsin, the probation officer told the detective.
A voicemail at the number listed for Lyon's office Friday said the
office was closed. He did not have a local home phone listing.
Lyons, the attorney in St. Paul, said the Wisconsin Bar called him a
couple of months ago, saying that court officials were noticing odd
behavior by the man using his name in circuit court.
"As strange as lawyers are, he was outside of the bell curve on
behavior," the St. Paul attorney said.
The main pages of the website for Lyon's legal business do not say that
he is a practicing attorney. They do offer to help clients who are "sick
and tired of attorneys that cost an arm and a leg." The site pledges to
help clients who have been ignored by other attorneys. "We'll listen.
We'll help. We'll prove to you that we're something different," the site
Lyon argued at least one case before a circuit court. The transcript of
a November court hearing of a divorce settlement, Lyon refers to himself
as his client's counsel and questioned the man on the stand about the
his marital problems, his earnings and the plans for child custody and
child support in his case, the complaint says.
He also claimed to work deals outside of the courtroom. Pictures from
the website for Lyon's firm show rows of cubicles with people working at
computers. One screen has a picture of a team of people in suits,
celebrating three cases that the website claims the firm negotiated
settlements for in a day, including a "major utility provider" in
We Energies spokesman Barry McNulty said he couldn't confirm whether his
company is the "major utility" that the website is referring to, but the
utility has noticed more attorneys calling on behalf of bill payers who
were trying to get bills and fees reduced.
"In the end, you end up paying more for their services than you would"
if you negotiated directly with We Energies, he said.
There also are community-based organizations that can handle payments
and energy assistance or financial credit counseling, McNulty said. "In
doing so, it would avoid falling victim or exposure to this type of
Investigators who searched Lyon's office on Milwaukee's northwest side
this month found a rubber notary stamp of a deceased notary public,
business cards that name Lyon as the operating attorney of his firm,
client files, court filings and correspondence.
As for Lyon's other business, his receptionist told investigators that
Lyon regularly used a Milwaukee hotel to operate a prostitution
business. Lyon had hired a guard to protect the prostitutes who were
working there. The secretary recruited women for the business by
advertising to hire lingerie models, according to the complaint.
Lyon also represented his receptionist in a small claims case. She told
an investigator that Lyon forged the signature of a court official on a
petition to waive court costs in the case.
Investigators showed the petition to the court officials, who said he
didn't sign it.
Lyons, the attorney in St. Paul, said he wasn't offended that Lyon used
his bar number, and he isn't worried that his name has been sullied. He
received a bachelor's degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in
1962 and his law degree from Georgetown University in 1965. He has dealt
with some federal court cases in Madison and Milwaukee, but his law
practice has always been in Minnesota.
Lyons said Friday that since he heard from the Wisconsin Bar, he has
fielded calls from investigators and one from one of Lyon's clients.
Lyons said when he started practicing law, no one wrote bar numbers on
documents or identification. Anyone could have shown up and claimed they
were an attorney.
The system is better now that it has some checks, he said. But Lyons
said he was amused that the coincidence of the similar names allowed
someone to trick court officials.
"The number was just a little extra touch that made him believable,"
Lyons said. "I think it was just kind of a small-time player, and the
bar number just checked him off."
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