It is very important that those seeking immigration legal advice work with reputable licensed immigration attorneys or established not for profit community organizations. See yesterdays NY Times City Room Article.
March 1, 2010, 4:46 pm
$3 Million Judgment in Immigration Fraud Case
By KIRK SEMPLE
A businesswoman in Jackson Heights, Queens, who falsely promised to secure legal immigration status for dozens of illegal immigrants has been ordered to pay $3 million in restitution and penalties by the State Supreme Court, Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo announced on Monday.
The judgment was the result of a lawsuit filed by Mr. Cuomo last year against Miriam Mercedes Hernandez, who charged her victims, most of them Latinos living in Queens, up to $15,000 per person to help them secure a Green Card or citizenship within eight month but never performed the services she promised, officials said.
When the victims demanded a refund, Ms. Hernandez threatened them and refused to return their money or their documents, Mr. Cuomo said.
The court ordered Ms. Hernandez to pay restitution to 37 families who stepped forward with evidence that they had been defrauded.
In addition, Ms. Hernandez, who had told her clients she had political connections to expedite their requests, was ordered to pay more than $2.8 million dollars in penalties for engaging in “the unauthorized practice of law and misrepresenting to the public that she had a special relationship with immigration officials and elected officials,” Mr. Cuomo said in a statement.
Ms. Hernandez was also permanently barred from “engaging in the business of immigration services,” the attorney general said.
“The court’s decision gives full restitution to victims who trusted this person to help them, and, in the end, were left with little more than lies and false promises,” Mr. Cuomo said. “The victims in this case had the courage to come forward and help prevent more innocent people from falling prey to this fraud.”
The case was part of a broad investigation by Mr. Cuomo’s office into immigration fraud.
In recent months, he has shut down four businesses that provided unauthorized legal services to thousands of immigrants. He has also issued more than 100 subpoenas to
businesses and people that he suspected were illegally providing unauthorized immigration services.
Immigration fraud, often orchestrated by immigrants, has proliferated across the country, victimizing people desperate to gain legal residency or citizenship. Law enforcement officials say such schemes are particularly difficult to uncover and prosecute because many victims are in the country illegally and are hesitant to seek help from the authorities for fear of deportation.
Under state and federal law, only lawyers or representatives accredited by the Justice Department can represent people before the immigration authorities. Anyone providing immigration services must also comply with strict rules governing contracts and advertising.