RI attorney arrested in check fraud scheme

Attorney Robert McNelis, 38, is accused of ordering another person to cash fraudulent checks on his behalf.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — State police have arrested a Rhode Island attorney after they say he directed another person to cash fraudulent checks on his behalf.

Attorney Robert McNelis, 38, of Providence, was charged with 11 crimes after a fraud complaint from a local check cashing service led to an investigation into the bad checks.

State police said Xtreme Computers in Pawtucket filed a complaint in August 2017, telling police a man named Marcus Crook had cashed numerous checks made payable to him from McNelis’ business account. After the cash was handed over to Crook, one of the checks bounced, according to state police spokesperson Laura Meade Kirk.

When police went to McNelis’ Johnston law firm to question him, he claimed that his checkbook was stolen. Police said $7,705 was stolen from Xtreme Computers, and McNelis lost $5,138.32.

State Police arrested Crook in December and charged him with forgery and counterfeiting, obtaining property by false pretenses and larceny. But Crook pointed the finger at McNelis, telling detectives he had been “directed” to cash the checks. State Police said “the investigation corroborated certain key aspects of what Mr. Crook had told investigators.”

McNelis was arrested Wednesday the Garrahy Judicial Complex in Providence, where he was working on a family court case. He was processed at the State Police barracks and brought back to the same building to be arraigned on 11 charges, including bank fraud, forgery and counterfeiting, and false report of a crime.

He was released on personal recognizance.

Eyewitness News reached McNelis at his Providence home Wednesday, where his twin brother Ryan McNelis, also an attorney, said he is representing him in the case.

“My brother is actually a victim, not a culprit in this matter,” Ryan McNelis said. He described Marcus Crook as a “disgruntled client” who stole Robert McNelis’ checkbook.

“He had access to the building and raided my brother’s office while my brother was away,” McNelis said. “We are supremely confident that in the matter of a very short time, my brother will be exonerated fully of all charges.”

McNelis had previously been publicly censured in 2016 by the Supreme Court after a non-lawyer assistant used McNelis’ checks from his business account to withdraw money for himself, and also “victimized” a client, according to the court order. The Court said McNelis’ conduct constituted “foolishness” and “recklessness.”

McNelis is due back in court in May. In the meantime, the court is permitting him to travel while out on bail. His attorney said McNelis will be traveling to Europe for his honeymoon on Thursday.

McNelis is facing the following charges:

  • False report of a crime
  • Obstructing a police officer
  • Unlawful appropriation
  • Conspiracy to commit unlawful appropriation
  • Soliciting another to commit a crime (forgery and counterfeiting)
  • Forgery and counterfeiting
  • Conspiracy to commit forgery and counterfeiting
  • Uttering and publishing
  • Soliciting another to commit a crime (bail jumping)
  • Bank fraud
  • Conspiracy to commit bank fraud