Attorney General Cuomo Sues To Stop Immigration Ripoff Scheme That Falsely Promised Green Cards And Citizenship

NEW YORK, NY (May 13, 2009) - Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo announced a lawsuit against Miriam Mercedes Hernandez, a businesswoman from Queens, for an immigration scam that targeted and defrauded over a dozen immigrants out of tens of thousands of dollars.

According to the complaint, filed today in New York Supreme Court, Hernandez would charge her victims up to $15,000 in exchange for help in securing permanent residence. She allegedly told clients she had the connections necessary to get their status adjusted within eight months. After eight months, however, her victims received none of the legal documentation they were promised. When they confronted Hernandez, she allegedly threatened to call the authorities if they complained to anyone. Today's lawsuit seeks to bar Hernandez immediately from continuing her fraudulent business practice, as well as secure restitution for the victims and penalties and costs for violating New York law.

"This city owes its history and its heritage to the immigrants who built it," said Attorney General Cuomo. "Today's case is a classic example of fraud - lying, cheating and exploiting people trying to permanently make this country their home. My office will continue its investigation of anyone who seeks to exploit and defraud immigrants."

Today's lawsuit charges Hernandez with engaging in fraud and deceptive practices, as well as violating New York civil rights laws and the New York Immigrant Assistance Service Provider Law. Hernandez is alleged to have falsely promised assistance to over a dozen individuals seeking legal status. In order to secure her services, she would on occasion tell her clients that she would only help them if they could bring her up to ten additional clients. She would then charge them all up to $7,500 as an initial fee, and up to $15,000 per person in total in exchange for the promise of having their status adjusted within eight months. According to the complaint, Hernandez took the fees from her victims but never performed the services promised.

The lawsuit is a result of the Attorney General's ongoing investigation into allegations that immigrants and their families are being targeted for fraudulent and unauthorized immigration related services with false promises of United States legal permanent residency and/or citizenship.

The Attorney General's investigation has found that these individuals target specific ethnic communities through word of mouth and advertisements. Victims of immigration fraud lose thousands of dollars and risk being accused of filing false documents with the immigration authorities or becoming subject to deportation proceedings.

Cesar A. Perales, President and General Counsel of Latino Justice PRLDEF, said: "As a country of immigrants, we should all applaud the Attorney General for taking this bold step in protecting immigrants from fraud and discrimination. LatinoJustice PRLDEF knows first hand the significant challenges immigrants face when they migrate to this country, not the least of which includes navigating the legal obstacles to obtaining residency and citizenship. There are too many companies and individuals ready to prey upon and take advantage of immigrant communities with false promises. They must be held fully accountable for their conduct, as the Attorney General is doing here. Mr. Cuomo's efforts here are not only welcomed, but necessary."

Chung-Wha Hong, Executive Director of the New York Immigration Coalition, said: "Thank you to Attorney General Andrew Cuomo for filing this important case, which highlights a significant problem faced by immigrant communities. Immigrants, by virtue of being new to this country, often do not know the legal system nor their legal rights. Scam artists are targeting immigrant communities with false and misleading promises to adjust their immigration status. This lawsuit and the Attorney General's efforts in this area are significant steps in curtailing this type of fraud and empowering immigrant communities to protect themselves."

The cases are being handled by Assistant Attorney General Vilda Vera Mayuga and Assistant Deputy Counselor Elizabeth De León with the assistance of Investigator David Negron and Legal Intern Catalina Rosales, under the supervision of Acting Bureau Chief for Civil Rights Alphonso B. David and Counsel for Civil Rights Spencer Freedman.

If you have been a victim of immigration assistance fraud you are urged to contact the Attorney General through the Office's Immigration Services Fraud Unit Hotline at (212) 416-6149.

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