A disbarred lawyer who spent roughly 20 years as a fugitive before his arrest last year pleaded guilty on Friday in Boston federal court to wire fraud, identity theft and other charges after duping investors into giving him $1.7 million for a supposed real estate development.
After reaching a deal with federal prosecutors, Scott Wolas, 69, entered a guilty plea to seven counts of wire fraud, one count of aggravated identity theft, one count of misusing a Social Security number and one count of tax evasion. Wolas could face a maximum of 20 years in prison plus three years of supervised release on the wire fraud charges, while the identity theft charge carries a minimum sentence of two years that must be served in addition to any other prison sentence Wolas receives.
Prosecutors said that as part of Wolas’ plea deal, filed in court on Thursday, they would also recommend he pay restitution of about $1.79 million to his victims, plus $69,768 to the Social Security Administration and Medicare, and another $318,266 to the Internal Revenue Service. A federal judge in Boston scheduled his sentencing for Oct. 2.
Before his most recent legal troubles, Wolas was a one-time Hunton & Williams litigation partner, though he was booted from the firm’s partnership in 1995 and later disbarred. Starting in the late 1990s, he reportedly used a number of aliases while evading New York authorities who brought charges against him in 1997 over a $100 million liquor-exporting fraud.
His time on the lam ended, however, when he was picked up in April 2017 in connection with a scheme involving a proposed sale and demolition of the now-defunct Beachcomber bar in the Boston suburb of Quincy, Massachusetts.
Prosecutors said that at the time of the fraud, Wolas had been serving as a real estate agent in Quincy for at least seven years, using the name Eugene Grathwohl. He then duped at least 19 friends and co-workers into giving him $1.7 million to buy the Beachcomber and an adjacent lot, both of which sit across a street from Quincy’s Wollaston Beach. The Beachcomber deal was set to close on Sept. 15, 2016.
“A week before, however, he left Quincy and ceased all contact with his then-girlfriend, his co-workers, and his investors,” federal prosecutors said in a statement.
After he skipped town, authorities eventually figured out Wolas’ true identity and learned that the real Eugene Grathwohl lived in Florida and was friends with Wolas’ ex-wife. The ex-wife, Cecily Sturge, pleaded guilty earlier this year to lying to investigators about Wolas’ whereabouts and was sentenced in May to a year of probation.
New York state court records show that Wolas was disbarred in 1999. That same year, Hunton & Williams, now part of Hunton Andrews Kurth after a merger, settled a wrongful termination claim by a former associate who alleged he was fired for pressing an inquiry into alleged fraudulent billing practices by Wolas. The law firm also paid at least $6 million to settle investor suits stemming from Wolas’ role in the Ponzi-type liquor fraud.