DALLAS—Joseph Kelly Lara, 41, who once used the pseudonym “Nick DeAngelis Mancuso,” was sentenced today by Chief U.S. District Judge Sidney A. Fitzwater to 240 months (20 years) following his guilty plea in June to one count of securities fraud, announced U.S. Attorney James T. Jacks of the Northern District of Texas. Judge Fitzwater also ordered that Lara forfeit personal property consisting mainly of computer equipment and other electronics, and ordered Lara to pay restitution of $1,058,365.
Lara, most recently a resident of Carrollton, Texas, has been in federal custody since his arrest in July 2008 on charges outlined in a federal criminal complaint filed in the Northern District of Texas. A federal grand jury indicted Lara for conspiracy to commit securities fraud, securities fraud, bank fraud and wire fraud.
According to plea documents filed in court, from May 2003 through approximately January 7, 2005, Lara adopted the fictitious identity of a securities attorney and investment professional named Nick DeAngelis Mancuso, and using that identity he fraudulently offered and sold securities, including Google, Inc. stock, that he never actually possessed. 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.
In 2003, Lara forged and fraudulently obtained court papers and identification that falsely identified him as Nick DeAngelis Mancuso. By using that fictitious identity, he concealed the fact that, while using the name Joseph Kelly Lara, he had served a prison sentence in Arizona for fraud and theft.
Lara also obtained two counterfeit University of Minnesota diplomas that appeared to confer an MBA degree and a law degree on Nick Mancuso. Lara then represented to investors, banks and others that he held those degrees, that he was an attorney specializing in securities law, and that he had enjoyed a successful and lucrative career in New York City’s financial industry. None of those things was true.
From December 2003 through January 2005, Lara employed office staff and leased and used office space in Irving, Texas, for his purported investment firm, “Atlantic Equity and Investments, LLC.” His counterfeit diplomas were prominently displayed in his personal office, and he created promotional materials identifying Nick Mancuso as the “Managing Member” of the firm. The materials falsely stated: “Mr. Mancuso is a graduate of the University of Minnesota, Walter Mondale School of Law (JD Law) and the University of Minnesota, Carlson School of Business Management (MBA Finance).”
Through the purported investment firm, Lara obtained money from investors by promising to invest it in stocks of various companies. Lara never used investor funds to purchase stocks on behalf of investors; the stock market investments were completely fictitious.
In order to mislead and deceive investors, Lara directed an associate, Brett Leslie Clarke, 35, of Phoenix, Arizona, to pose as a fictitious stock broker using the pseudonym “Ben Goodson,” to assure investors that their funds were being invested in stocks. Clarke pleaded guilty in June 2009 to an Information filed in the Northern District of Texas charging him with conspiring to commit securities fraud with Lara. Clarke, who is not in custody, is scheduled to be sentenced on Monday, November 16, by U.S. District Judge Sam A. Lindsay. He faces a maximum statutory sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Although his investment firm was bogus, Lara maintained a lifestyle consistent with financial and professional success. Using investor funds and 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.
At a detention hearing on July 30, 2008, U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul D. Stickney heard testimony that in 2008 Lara, still using the false Nick Mancuso identity, became a pastor at a North Texas church. A witness at the hearing testified that she went to work for “Pastor Nick” as his administrative assistant and did not learn his true identity until after his arrest. The witness also testified about financial losses she suffered as a result of her dealings with “Pastor Nick,” which eventually led her to file for bankruptcy. In an order detaining Lara pending trial, Judge Stickney noted that “Mr. Lara is involved with continuing criminal enterprises, defrauding individuals throughout the United States.”
The case was investigated by the FBI and prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Alan M. Buie.