Immigration Assistance Provider Sued
New York State Attorney General Spitzer today announced the filing of a civil lawsuit against a woman who defrauded consumers seeking immigration advice. United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York Michael Garcia joined Spitzer in warning immigrants about the proliferation of fraudulent immigration assistance service providers, while announcing the arrest of one such provider.
The lawsuit, filed today in State Supreme Court in the Bronx, charges that Maria E. Maximo targeted Caribbean, Garifuna, Central American, and other Latino communities to provide immigration assistance services that were in fact fraudulent. Maximo operates Jamalali Uagucha, a not-for-profit organization, located at 1911 Southern Boulevard, Bronx, New York. Jamalalis services are advertised on a website, www.jamalaliuagucha-garifuna.com, and in flyers offering immigration assistance and other services.
According to the civil complaint, Maximo and Jamalali charge substantial up-front fees typically ranging from $500 to $2,000 for immigration assistance "services" that included submitting applications to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or to the Department of Homeland Security, for immigration relief for which consumers are not eligible, typically without the consumers authorization or knowledge. Maximos practices often had devastating results for consumers such as deportation proceedings.
"Preying on the desperation within our immigrant communities to adjust immigration status with fraudulent offers is unscrupulous and illegal," said Spitzer. "We will enforce the law against those who defraud people seeking a better life for themselves and their children."
US Attorney Garcia said: "Maria Maximos clients wanted to obtain legal immigration status and instead fell victim to her greed. The applications filed in this case were nothing but a fraud concocted to profit off their desperation." Garcia announced Maximos arrest today on mail fraud charges in connection with the scheme.
The complexity and ever-changing nature of the rules and regulations governing immigration increase the likelihood that dishonest immigration consultants will seek to defraud consumers seeking assistance with immigration law matters. Consumers who use these services risk losing thousands of dollars becoming subject to deportation proceedings, or being accused of attempting to file false papers with immigration authorities.
According to the civil complaint filed in this case, Maximo and Jamalali advertised a legalization program, sometimes referred to in advertising as a "pilot" legalization program, which purported to provide consumers with a "green card" to document permanent resident status.
Maximo is also alleged to have advertised other immigration services, such as securing employment or "work authorization." However, after consumers paid up-front fees ranging from $500 to $1,000 for this service, Maximo allegedly failed to secure employment authorization documentation. Typically, according to the complaint, she processed applications for immigration relief that was not applicable or for relief that the consumer had not requested, which often resulted in the initiation of removal proceedings.
The Attorney Generals lawsuit seeks seek injunctive relief, restitution, damages and costs.
Spitzer issued recommendations for consumers seeking immigration assistance:
- Check with the NYS Office of Court Administration Attorney Registration Unit at (212) 428-2800 to verify if someone claiming to be an attorney licensed in New York is in fact admitted to practice in NY and registered with NY's Unified Court System.
- Make sure that any representation agreement is made in writing and that you understand all the terms before signing. The agreement should list all fees and the scope of the immigration consultants representation.
- Do not give the consultant any original documents. Make sure you are given a copy of any agreement and ask that it be translated if the negotiation was in another language.
- Keep detailed records of any payments which should be made by check or credit card if possible, and ask for a signed receipt.
- Be wary of individuals offering inside connections with immigration authorities, or who otherwise suggest that they are able to guarantee results.
- Beware of "notario" fraud. Notaries public may take advantage of the literal Spanish translation of their title, notario público, a title describing an attorney in many Latin American countries. By taking advantage of the confusion, immigration consultants fraudulently claim expertise or promise results that they simply cannot deliver.
The Attorney General noted that recent state legislation significantly strengthens enforcement against those who mislead immigrants, by classifying any violation as a criminal misdemeanor. Among other provisions the law also authorizes the Attorney General to seek an injunction, penalties of up to $7,500 per violation and restitution. On June 28, 2005 the New York City Council passed local legislation that confers enforcement authority on the Department of Consumer Affairs.
Consumers who have been victims immigration consultant frauds are urged to contact the New York State Attorney General's Consumer Helpline at 1-800-771-7755 or through the OAG's Web site www.ag.ny.gov.
The charges contained in the federal criminal complaint are mere accusations and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
The case in being handled by Assistant Attorney General Roberto Lebrón, of the AG's Harlem Regional Office, under supervision of Attorney-General-In-Charge Guy Mitchell. Attorney General Spitzer thanked the Bronx District Attorneys Office, the United States Attorneys Office, and other federal agenciesfor working with his office on this matter.