LARGO — Something just didn't seem right to attorney Jimmy Thomas when he talked to his client before his fraud trial Tuesday.
The 30-year-old man did not seem to remember basic aspects of the case they had discussed.
Thomas knew that his client, Matthew Mauceri, had a twin brother named Marcus.
Thomas had represented both men in court, and the two often changed their appearances — sometimes beards or goatees, sometimes clean-shaven.
Could the man in court Tuesday be the twin?
Thomas faced an ethical pinch few lawyers have encountered: Should he reveal his suspicion that his client was an imposter?
Ultimately, he did. And his suspicion was correct.
Marcus Mauceri had taken the place of his brother, Matthew, at the trial. The reason: He claimed his brother was flying in from out of state and couldn't make it to the courthouse on time.
It may sound like a grade school prank — one twin pretending to be another — but the imposter wound up with a grown-up penalty: a 179-day jail sentence for contempt of court.
Meanwhile, his brother — the one who was supposed to go on trial — was later taken into custody and given a new trial date.
"It put me in a really tough spot," Thomas said later.
Matthew Mauceri was scheduled to begin trial Tuesday on one count of scheming to defraud. The 2007 case involved $160,000 in checks that didn't clear and auto parts that allegedly never got paid for.
On Tuesday morning, when Thomas started having doubts about his purported client, he asked the man if he really was Matthew Mauceri. The man said he was. Thomas doubted it but hadn't seen his client since December.
"The bottom line was, I wasn't 100 percent," he said.
But he was in a dilemma. On the one hand, he is required to defend his client's rights. On the other hand, ethical guidelines prevent him from allowing a "fraud upon the court."
Also, if it was the wrong brother, Thomas was concerned that he would be discussing information meant only for the brother who was actually supposed to be on trial.
So he consulted with another lawyer Tuesday morning. "I told him what my dilemma was," Thomas said.
The other lawyer interviewed the man claiming to be Matthew Mauceri. "He basically informed him if you're not who you say you are, you could get in trouble," Thomas recounted.
The man still claimed to be Matthew Mauceri, but Thomas wasn't convinced. He contacted another lawyer for advice. Word of the possible deception eventually was brought to the attention of Circuit Judge Joseph A. Bulone, who discussed it with Thomas and with prosecutors.
In court, Bulone asked the defendant his name.
At this point, Thomas says, "He probably should have said that I'm not Matt, I'm Mark and I was just trying to help my brother." If he did, he might not have faced any sanctions.
Instead, according to a transcript of the hearing, Marcus Mauceri said under oath that he was Matthew.
Then Bulone asked if he would allow himself to be fingerprinted. The man asked if that was normal procedure, and the judge explained they were trying to figure out who he really was.
The man agreed. And his fingerprints proved he was really Marcus Mauceri.
He then admitted his identity and told the judge that he was standing in because his brother was flying in from out of state and couldn't make it to court on time.
The judge sentenced Marcus Mauceri to just under six months in jail for what is known as direct criminal contempt — an offense a judge witnesses in the courtroom.
Matthew Mauceri did show up in court about noon Tuesday — and was promptly taken into custody for having failed to appear at the designated time. Unlike his twin, he sported short hair and a goatee.
It was a topsy-turvy day, but some things haven't changed. Thomas said he is still planning to represent Matthew Mauceri, provided there are no legal or ethical reasons he can't.
Curtis Krueger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8232.