John Lambert took on an alias, pretended to be a high-power attorney in New York City and bilked clients out of thousands of dollars — all from his college town in North Carolina, according to federal court filings.
Now he’s going to prison.
Lambert, 25, attended Campbell University in Buies Creek, North Carolina, where he was a co-founder of the national group Students for Trump during the 2016 presidential election. On Tuesday, a federal judge in Manhattan sentenced him to 13 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release.
Gary A. Peters, a defense attorney who represented Lambert, told McClatchy News they are disappointed with the prison term given that a person accused of working with Lambert hasn’t been charged.
During his sentencing, Lambert also expressed his “sincere regret” for the scheme, The Washington Post reported.
“My life will be forever marked by this poor choice,” he said, according to The Post, adding that he spent “countless hours in prayer to rid myself of the demons.”
But U.S. District Judge Valerie E. Caproni for the Southern District of New York was less than forgiving during Tuesday’s sentencing, calling him “a cold-blooded fraudster who cared not a whit about the victims of his fraud,” The New York Daily News reported.
Caproni also said she was disappointed Lambert hadn’t tried to get a job to repay the victims, according to The Washington Post. In addition to his prison sentence, Lambert was ordered to pay $21,337 in restitution and forfeit $47,134.
Peter said the judge’s statement was “unwarranted” because they didn’t agree on restitution until recently.
“Without borrowing from his parents, it would have been very difficult to find a job during the pandemic in order to begin to pay any restitution and for the judge to note that issue was unfortunate, in our opinion,” Peters said. “Mr. Lambert is committed to repaying all of the restitution ordered by the judge as soon as possible.”
Lambert was a 20-year-old student at Campbell when the alleged fraud began, his defense attorneys said in court filings. He and a friend reportedly started a business for web design that branched out to include legal resources. From there, the fake law firm in Manhattan was born.
For nearly two years starting in 2016, prosecutors said, Lambert posed as “a high-powered, experienced lawyer in New York City who had attended one of the best law schools in the country, worked at one of the most prestigious law firms in the world and represented thousands of clients through his own law firm.”
Using the name Eric Pope, he’s accused of going after “vulnerable” individuals and small businesses who lacked experience working with attorneys.
“It would be bad enough if Lambert’s victims had been large corporations who were sophisticated consumers of legal services; it is even worse that they were not,” prosecutors said. “In total, Lambert defrauded more than two dozen victims of tens of thousands of dollars.”
One of the victims took money out of a 401(k) account to pay Lambert for help correcting his credit report, prosecutors said. Lambert reportedly strung him along for months while pretending to be in contact with the credit agency and threatening to file a lawsuit if the issues weren’t resolved.
Lambert ultimately took more than $10,000 from the victim before he stopped responding, according to court documents.
Prosecutors said Lambert also received $1,500 to write a will, $1,400 to provide legal advice on intellectual property law and $2,250 to handle a dispute with a fired printing company employee.
Lambert eventually left Campbell, moved home to eastern Tennessee and enrolled at Northeast State College, his attorneys said in sentencing documents. He was arrested at home in April 2019 and pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud a few months later.
Citing the “extraordinarily serious” allegations and Lambert’s deception by “cloaking himself in the veneer of legitimacy associated with a degree from an elite law school, tenure at an elite law firm, and admission to the bar,” prosecutors asked the judge for a prison sentence between 15 and 21 months.
Lambert’s defense attorneys, meanwhile, said he had no criminal history and was a “model example of a good young man who simply made a bad mistake.” They added the intense public scrutiny he faced given his ties to Students for Trump has been “merciless” and a “nightmare.”
“John Tyler (Lambert) has, from the outset of this case, acknowledged his guilt and approached the entire tragedy with a deep sense of remorse for his wrongful conduct,” his attorneys said.