A Jersey City attorney pleaded guilty today in federal court to a scheme in which he defrauded his clients of millions of dollars.

According to U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger, James R. Lisa, 68, admitted in court that he defrauded clients of more than $2 million dollars, and also pleaded guilty to wire fraud and tax evasion.

Authorities say that in 2014, Lisa, an attorney who according to his Facebook page specialized in criminal law, 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.

In 2015, Lisa successfully repatriated more than $6 million of the family’s funds, but then falsely told the family that the funds remained offshore. In 2017, he gave $4 million of the repatriated funds to the family and said that the remaining $2 million remained beyond his control. 

Lisa then told the family that he successfully resolved the tax implications of repatriating the funds. In 2016, he 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.

Two years later, Lisa sent the family another fraudulent closing agreement 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, say authorities, 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.

Lisa was arrested in January 2023 and placed on pretrial release. One condition of his pretrial release, say authorities, was that he not commit another crime.

In April 2023, authorities say Lisa committed wire fraud when he applied for a $22,000 loan. In order to obtain the loan, he submitted a fraudulent document to the lender that purported to be a letter from the attorney then representing him in his criminal prosecution.

Today, Lisa pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Kevin McNulty in Newark federal court to 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.

Lisa 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. 

“James Lisa used his law license to execute a multimillion-dollar fraud scheme and rip off clients who placed their trust in him,” U.S. Attorney Sellinger said. “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. Lisa’s multiple criminal acts were serious violations of his oath as an officer of the court and a betrayal of his clients’ trust.”

Lisa faces a potentially lengthy sentence and substantial fines. The count of wire fraud alone 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. Other counts are punishable by up to 10 years that must run consecutively and additional fines.

Lisa’s reviews online depict an attorney in trouble. Elizabeth Richards reported on Google that she and her husband lost their business when he failed to appear for them in a commercial eviction proceeding and didn’t file necessary papers. “He took our money, made promises and did nothing for us. Be very careful with this attorney.”

Despite other reviews calling him “unprofessional” and a “con artist,” a few raved about the once apparently successful attorney. Said one client, “if it wasn’t for this guy right here I would be suck behind bars, eating, sleeping, and going to the bathroom when I’m told.”

Lisa’s sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 25, 2024.