‘Serial con man’ opens new Florida business after stint in prison

Michael Nelson removed from referral website Thumbtack after News 6 investigation

Michael Nelson, dubbed a "serial con man" by federal prosecutors was removed from referral website Thumbtack, where he was trying to open a new Florida business, after a News 6 investigation. (Copyright 2022 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A convicted felon whom federal prosecutors once called a “serial con man” recently opened a new company in Florida that advertised 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 referral website Thumbtack, which indicated Nelson had passed a criminal background check.

Court records show Nelson has spent more than 17 of the past 25 years in federal prison following convictions in three states for offenses including wire fraud, computer fraud and identity theft.

After News 6 questioned Thumbtack officials 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 website’s terms of service.

Nelson is not accused of committing any new crimes since he completed federal supervised probation 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 2017 interview following his release from prison. “(I’m) not ripping anybody off.”

A website for Nelson’s new company, Bicalho-Nelson, was established 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 website, described him as a “partner” at the company and claimed he had “over 30 years” of executive management and complex mediation experience.

Nelson was incarcerated in federal prisons during much of that time, court records show.

Nelson’s biography also claimed he earned a psychology and social work master certificate in 2009 from Stratford Career Institute, a correspondence school. Nelson was in federal custody that year, according to court records.

“While (Nelson) did complete the Legal Assistant/Paralegal program, he did not graduate or receive a diploma,” the school’s director of admissions told News 6.

Advertisements on websites including Nicelocal, Google and Facebook described Nelson’s company as providing “legal services.” After News 6 began investigating the business, the Google and Facebook listings were altered to indicate the company specializes in “consulting.”

Nelson’s business was also promoted on the website Thumbtack, an online referral service that connects local professionals with potential customers.

Thumbtack’s website indicated Nelson had been “background checked.”

Nelson’s Thumbtack page was removed from the website earlier this month after News 6 questioned Thumbtack about how someone with Nelson’s criminal history could pass a background check.

“We adhere to industry standards for background checks, which are processed through a nationally accredited third-party provider. Instances of bad actors on the Thumbtack platform are incredibly rare – however, in the instance of it happening, customers should reach out to our trust and safety team who rapidly address these situations when they arise,” a Thumbtack spokesperson told News 6. “We have taken action with our provider and removed Mr. Nelson from the Thumbtack platform as he’s in violation of our terms of service.”

Nelson’s company was based in a Jacksonville office building, according to its website. But the business recently vacated the “co-working” office space it had been leasing, according to a person who answered the phone at the facility.

When News 6 contacted Nelson for comment on this story, he declined to speak by phone and requested that all questions be submitted to him in writing via email. Nelson did not respond to those written questions, nor did he respond to follow-up voicemail messages.

Less than a week after News 6 contacted Nelson, the website for his new company was altered.

“We are happy to announce that we are consolidating our focus areas and services that were previously offered to clients,” a message on the website read. “Effective December 1, 2022, we will focus in the following areas only: Brand Management, Facilitating Sales Negotiations, and Mediation.”

Michael Nelson convicted of fraud in multiple states

Nelson created an Orlando company called Global Project Management Services in 1997, records show.

Using the alias “Larry Powell,” Nelson convinced other business owners to buy or lease office equipment from Global even though it provided no actual goods or services, according to federal prosecutors.

To fool victims into thinking his company had a favorable credit history, Nelson created a fake bank, federal investigators alleged.

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 restitution.

In 2003, while Nelson was serving out the last few months of that sentence, a News 6 investigation found that Nelson was leaving a federal halfway house during the day to operate a so-called “law office.”

Nelson was allegedly collecting fees to provide legal services to federal inmates even though the firm of Townes, Boyd and Partners did not have any attorneys on staff.

After News 6 questioned the Bureau of Prisons about how Nelson could work at a fake law firm, U.S. marshals arrested him at his Maitland office and returned him to maximum security custody.

Upon his release from prison, Nelson moved to Chicago where he defrauded three churches and two banks out of nearly $724,000 while posing as a consultant named “Anthony Zamora,” according to federal prosecutors.

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 con man who we don’t believe can be deterred,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Drury told WBBM-TV after the sentencing. “The fact that Mr. Nelson could come and take churches for hundreds of thousands of dollars, as the judge said, where they’re scrimping for money, was especially egregious in this case.”

Nelson moved to Los Angeles in 2006 while he was awaiting trial on the Chicago fraud charges.

While in California, federal prosecutors said Nelson created another phony law firm, Nelson & Associates, which also had a satellite office in Atlanta.

According to federal investigators, Nelson stole the identity of a real attorney named Michael S. Nelson by hacking into the website of the California Bar and altering the licensed lawyer’s contact information.

Posing as an attorney, Nelson collected at least $103,000 in legal fees from clients, court records show.

In 2013, while Nelson was serving time in federal prison on the Chicago fraud conviction, he 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 that Nelson be placed on supervised probation for three years.

In 2017, while Nelson was serving his probation in Orlando, News 6 discovered he had posted a series of YouTube videos claiming to be the pastor of an online church catering to the LGBTQ community.

Nelson solicited charitable donations 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, $50. Whatever you want to donate. We live off your donations.”

Around the same time, News 6 learned Nelson was operating another “law office” in Winter Park.

Clients of that business told News 6 that Nelson had claimed to be a lawyer but failed to do the work for which they had paid him.

Nelson’s involvement in that legal business violated the terms of his supervised probation, according to federal prosecutors, who said Nelson presented “an economic risk” to the community.

“I’m not a risk to the community,” Nelson told a federal judge in response. “I’m not a risk for financial fraud.”

The judge revoked Nelson’s supervised probation in 2017 and returned him to prison.

“You have a very long history of separating people from their money,” U.S. District Judge Carlos Mendoza said as he sentenced Nelson to 30 months in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised probation. “I’m convinced the defendant remains a danger to society.”

Nelson was released from federal custody in 2019, prison records show. His supervised probation ended earlier this year.

Nelson originally attempted to find work in the restaurant industry, News 6 learned.

“Senior restaurant management is now my passion,” Nelson’s resume shows, according to a copy obtained by News 6. “I have more than 15 years expertise in exceeding guest and client satisfaction, sales, operations, inventory management, inspiring, mentoring, training, leading and the development of teams while managing multi-locations.”

Nelson also became associated with a fitness company called Extreme Wellness Step, social media posts indicate.

The website for Extreme Wellness Step currently lists Nelson as its Chief Executive Officer and describes him as a “global and nationally recognized certified personal trainer.”

Extreme Wellness Step relocated from Orlando to the Jacksonville area in July 2022, a message on the website reads.

That same month, Nelson’s new company advertising “legal services” was established in the Jacksonville area.

About the Author:

Emmy Award-winning investigative reporter Mike DeForest has been covering Central Florida news for more than two decades.