JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A convicted felon whom federal prosecutors once dubbed a “serial fraudster” recently opened a new company in Florida promoting accounting and legal services, News4JAX sister station WKMG News 6 learned.
Michael Nelson, 51, did not respond to written questions from News 6 inquiring about his latest business venture.
Nelson’s company was listed on the Thumbtack referral website, indicating that Nelson had passed a criminal background check.
Court records show Nelson has served more than 17 of the past 25 years in federal prison after being convicted in three states of crimes including wire fraud, computer fraud and identity theft.
After News 6 interviewed Tack employees about how someone with Nelson’s criminal history could pass a background check, the site removed Nelson’s profile from its platform, citing a violation of the site’s terms of service.
Nelson has not been charged with any new crimes since completing federally-supervised parole earlier this year, and no customers of Nelson’s new business have come forward with complaints about the company.
“No more cons,” Nelson said in a 2017 interview after his release from prison. “(I’m) not ripping anyone off.”
A website for Nelson’s new company, Bicalho-Nelson, was launched in July 2022, domain registration records show. Another website domain, mnelsonusa.com, was registered in October.
Nelson’s online biography, which was recently removed from the site, described him as a “partner” with the company and claimed he had “over 30 years” of experience in business management and complex mediation.
Nelson was held in federal prisons for much of that time, court records show.
Nelson’s biography also claimed that he earned a master’s degree in psychology and social work from the Stratford Career Institute, a correspondence school, in 2009. According to court records, Nelson was in federal custody that year.
“While[Nelson]was completing the Legal Assistant/Paralegal program, he did not graduate or receive a diploma,” the school’s admissions director told News 6.
Ads on sites including Nicelocal, Google and Facebook described Nelson’s company as a provider of “legal services.” After News 6 began investigating the company, the Google and Facebook listings were changed to indicate that the company specializes in “consulting.”
Nelson’s business was also advertised on the website Thumbtack, an online recommendation service that connects local professionals with potential customers.
Tack’s website stated that Nelson was “background checked”.
Nelson’s thumbtack page was removed from the site earlier this month after News 6 Thumbtack asked how someone with Nelson’s criminal record could pass a background check.
“We adhere to industry standards for background checks conducted by a nationally accredited third party. Instances of bad actors on the Thumbtack platform are incredibly rare – however if this does happen, customers should contact our trust and security team who will address these situations quickly when they arise,” a Thumbtack spokesperson told News 6. We have taken action with our provider and removed Mr. Nelson from the Thumbtack platform for violating our Terms of Service.”
According to his website, Nelson’s company was based out of an office building in Jacksonville. However, the company recently vacated the “co-working” office space it rented, according to a person who answered the phone at the facility.
When News 6 reached out to Nelson for comment on this story, he declined to speak by phone and asked that any questions be emailed to him in writing. Nelson did not respond to these written questions, nor to subsequent voicemail messages.
Less than a week after News 6 contacted Nelson, his new company’s website was changed.
“We are pleased to announce that we are consolidating our focus areas and services previously offered to clients,” the website said in a statement. “Effective December 1, 2022, we will only focus on the following areas: brand management, facilitating sales negotiations and brokerage.”
Michael Nelson convicted of multi-state fraud
According to records, Nelson founded a company called Global Project Management Services in Orlando in 1997.
Using the alias “Larry Powell,” federal prosecutors said Nelson persuaded other business owners to buy or lease office equipment from Global, even though it did not provide any actual goods or services.
In order to trick victims into believing that his company had a favorable credit history, Nelson established a fake bank, federal investigators claimed.
Nelson later pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, bank fraud, and money laundering. A judge sentenced Nelson to five years in prison and ordered him to pay $723,000 in damages.
In 2003, as Nelson was serving the final months of that sentence, an investigation by News 6 found that Nelson left a federal transitional house during the day to run what he called a “law firm.”
Nelson allegedly collected fees for providing legal services to federal inmates, even though the law firm of Townes, Boyd and Partners had not hired attorneys.
After News 6 questioned the Bureau of Prisons about how Nelson could work at a fake law firm, US marshals arrested him at his Maitland office and placed him in maximum security custody.
After his release from prison, Nelson moved to Chicago, where federal prosecutors say he defrauded three churches and two banks out of nearly $724,000 while posing as a consultant named “Anthony Zamora.”
In 2010, a judge sentenced Nelson to eight years in prison after a Chicago jury convicted him of bank and mail fraud.
“Mr. Nelson is a serial fraudster who we don’t think can be deterred,” Assistant US Attorney Scott Drury told WBBM-TV after the sentencing. “The fact that Mr. Nelson is coming and churches for hundreds of thousands of Dollar could take over, as the judge said, where they are skimping on money, was particularly egregious in this case.”
Nelson moved to Los Angeles in 2006 while awaiting trial on fraud charges in Chicago.
While in California, federal prosecutors said Nelson established another shell law firm, Nelson & Associates, which also had a side office in Atlanta.
According to federal investigators, Nelson stole the identity of a real attorney named Michael S. Nelson by hacking into the California Bar Association’s website and changing the licensed attorney’s contact information.
Disguising himself as an attorney, Nelson raked in at least $103,000 in legal fees from clients, court filings show.
In 2013, while serving time in federal prison for the Chicago fraud conviction, Nelson pleaded guilty to aggravated identity theft, computer fraud, and wire fraud in the California case.
A federal judge in California sentenced Nelson to more than three years in prison. Upon his release from federal custody, the judge ordered Nelson placed on probation for three years.
In 2017, while Nelson was serving his probation in Orlando, News 6 discovered that he had posted a series of YouTube videos claiming to be the pastor of an online church that caters to the LGBTQ community.
Nelson solicited donations to charity in his videos, claiming the contributions were tax-deductible.
“Please (send) a donation,” Nelson said in one of the videos. “Even if it’s $5, $2, or $50. Whatever you want to donate. We live on your donations.”
Around the same time, News 6 learned that Nelson ran another “law office” in Winter Park.
Clients of that company told News 6 that Nelson had claimed to be a lawyer but had failed to do the work they paid him to do.
Nelson’s involvement in the deal violated the terms of his supervised parole, according to federal prosecutors, who said Nelson posed “an economic risk” to the community.
“I’m not a risk to the community,” Nelson told a federal judge in response. “I am not at risk for financial fraud.”
The judge revoked Nelson’s supervised parole in 2017 and sent him back to prison.
“They have a very long history of robbing people of their money,” said U.S. District Judge Carlos Mendoza when he sentenced Nelson to 30 months in federal prison followed by three years of supervised probation. “I am convinced that the accused remains a danger to society.”
Nelson was released from federal custody in 2019, prison records show. His supervised parole ended earlier this year.
Nelson originally tried to find work in the restaurant industry, News 6 learned.
“Senior restaurant management is now my passion,” says Nelson’s resume, according to a copy obtained by News 6. “I have over 15 years of experience in guest and customer experience improvement, sales, operations, inventory management, inspiration, mentoring and training, leading and developing teams while managing multiple locations.”
Nelson has also been linked to a fitness company called Extreme Wellness Step, social media posts show.
The Extreme Wellness Step website currently lists Nelson as Chief Executive Officer and describes him as a “globally and nationally recognized certified personal trainer.”
Extreme Wellness Step relocated from Orlando to the Jacksonville area in July 2022, according to a message on the website.
That same month, Nelson’s new company, promoting “legal services,” launched in the Jacksonville area.
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