Cuomo Launches Sweeping Investigation Into Immigration Fraud Across The New York City Area

NEW YORK, NY (May 28, 2009) - Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that his Office has issued more than 50 subpoenas to organizations and individuals across the New York City area as part of his sweeping investigation into immigration fraud.

Cuomo’s investigation focuses on allegations that immigrants and their families are being targeted for fraudulent and unauthorized immigration-related services and in some instances with false promises of United States legal permanent residency and/or citizenship. The organizations and individuals under investigation allegedly pose as legitimate immigration service providers and offer services they are not authorized to perform. Today’s announcement comes on the heels of a lawsuit brought earlier this month by the Attorney General’s Office against Miriam Mercedes Hernandez, a businesswoman from Queens who orchestrated an immigration scam that defrauded more than a dozen immigrants out of tens of thousands of dollars. Today’s subpoenas demand documents and testimony from the over 50 organizations and individuals.

“Immigrant communities across New York City continue to be put in jeopardy by unscrupulous individuals and organizations offering them nothing more than empty promises and false hopes,” said Attorney General Cuomo. “Individuals who receive inaccurate legal information regarding their immigration status face severe consequences to their residency, employment status and property rights. Today’s subpoenas expand this Office’s investigation across the entire New York City metropolitan area, and we will actively pursue all those we find to be in violation of the law.”

Today’s subpoenas seek to discover whether these organizations and individuals engage in the unauthorized practice of law and fraudulent business practices in providing immigration related services. Specifically, the subpoenas seek documents including but not limited to: (1) all agreements and contracts for services; (2) the names and qualifications of all employees and agents; (3) the policies, practices and procedures of the entity; (4) all complaints concerning payment for services; (5) all promotional and advertising materials relating to immigration services; and (6) all financial records relating to immigration services.

Issuing the subpoenas to the organizations and individuals is the most recent step by the Attorney General to combat immigration fraud in all forms throughout New York State. In the lawsuit filed earlier this month, Cuomo alleges that Ms. Hernandez charged her victims up to $15,000 in exchange for help in securing permanent residence. She allegedly told clients she has 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. The 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.

Under state and federal law, only lawyers or accredited representatives can represent individuals before immigration authorities. Further, under New York State law, it is unlawful to mislead or defraud any person in providing any service, including immigration-related services. The law also requires anyone providing immigration services to comply with advertising guidelines, signage and surety requirements, as well as provide consumers with written contracts in both the consumer’s native language and English, detailing the services they will be providing and the cancellation policy. The Attorney General is authorized to seek an injunction, penalties of up to $7,500 per violation and restitution.

Michael Rothenberg, Executive Director of New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, a non-profit organization of lawyers that assists underrepresented people, said: “We are extremely heartened by the Attorney General’s efforts to aggressively address this problem, which is significant in immigrant communities. Legal advice can only be rendered by lawyers, and those that target immigrant communities and misrepresent their services to be legal services should be investigated and prosecuted. This investigation highlights and will hopefully curb this problem.”

Christopher D. Lamb, Executive Director of MFY Legal Services, a non-profit organization in New York City that provides free legal services to low-income people, said: “Thank you to Attorney General for fighting against rampant immigration fraud and discrimination throughout this State. Many immigrants arrive in this country with valid legal documents, but lose or compromise their status because they are misled and defrauded by unlicensed and unaccredited third parties. We applaud the Attorney General’s efforts in investigating unlawful immigration practices, which must stop.”

The investigation is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Vilda Vera Mayuga and Assistant Deputy Counselor Elizabeth De León with the assistance of Investigator David Negron, under the supervision of 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.

To avoid being scammed, know your rights.