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Judge shuts down fake Baltimore law firm

A high-school graduate who operated a fake law firm in Baltimore must cease doing business and pay $261,000 for representing clients in bankruptcy cases.

Holding himself out as “A. Michael Scalia,” Michael A. Mancini ran Scalia & Seidel LLC, decking it out to look like a law firm and filing court documents on behalf of at least 54 clients over the course of four months this year, according to the opinion by Judge David E. Rice in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Baltimore.

Rice ordered Mancini to pay fines for filing court documents with false information, providing legal advice without a law license, making misleading advertising claims and charging clients excessive fees.

The judge also ordered Mancini to pay damages to Linda D. Johnson, the debtor in the underlying Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceeding, and to 53 other clients in an order filed Oct. 19.

Mancini never responded to the complaint filed by the U.S. Trustee, which was designed to recover assets for Johnson’s estate in what’s known as an adversary proceeding.

According to Rice’s memorandum opinion, Mancini never attended college, let alone law school. He ran an office on Harford Road between Feb. 10 and July 25, accepting payments for preparing bankruptcy petitions, schedules and statements of financial affairs and filing them in court, the judge wrote.

Other listings for Scalia & Seidel indicate the firm was located on South Street in downtown Baltimore. No working telephone number could be found Wednesday for the firm or for Mancini personally.

A website for the firm, scaliaseidel.com, said only that the account for the site had been suspended.

Assistant U.S. Trustee Mark A. Neal, who filed the complaint, declined to comment on the case.

Mancini’s original name was Michael Antonio Lonardo, according to court documents. He first sought to change his name to A. Michael Scalia, but changed his mind and legally changed it in June to Michael Antonio Mancini.

However, Mancini remained the Scalia at Scalia & Seidel. Seidel was presumably a silent partner: that was the last name of his grandfather, who died about 30 years ago, the judge found.

Based on a visit from an assistant U.S. trustee and a representative from the Attorney Grievance Commission, the judge found that Mancini set the stage at Scalia & Seidel to look like a law office, right down to the law books on the shelves. The firm advertised for clients in publications and online and, according to at least one website, Mancini claimed to be licensed to practice law, Rice wrote.

Johnson, the debtor, found Mancini by searching the Internet for bankruptcy attorneys. She paid Mancini $400 to help her prepare her bankruptcy case and he told her he was a lawyer. With Mancini’s help, Johnson filed a voluntary petition for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in March.

On documents Mancini helped Johnson file, he falsely wrote that his name was “A. Michael Scalia, BPP” and provided a fake Social Security number.

Mancini prepared similar documents for 53 other cases, identifying himself as A. Michael Scalia in 44 of the cases and as Michael Mancini in nine of them.

Scalia did not respond to the complaint or amended complaint filed against him in the adversary proceeding in U.S. Bankruptcy Court. He did not attend the pre-trial conference. He also did not respond to a motion for default judgment and did not appear at an evidentiary hearing Oct. 2, despite being given notice.

Rice ordered Mancini pay a total of $153,000 in fines to the U.S. Trustee. Rice also ordered Mancini to pay $2,000 to each of the debtors, for a total of $108,000 in damages. Rice additionally ordered Mancini to refund Johnson the money she paid him.

Rice also barred Mancini and his firm from working as bankruptcy petition preparers.