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Post date: July 1 2004

Bronx Consultant Sued For Defrauding Immigrants

New York State Attorney General Spitzer today announced the filing of a lawsuit against a Bronx man who defrauded consumers seeking immigration advice. U.S. Congressman José Serrano, State Assemblyman José Rivera, State Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin, New York City Councilman Kendall Stewart, and the New York Immigration Coalition joined Spitzer to warn immigrants about the proliferation of fraudulent immigration consultants.

The lawsuit, filed earlier this week in State Supreme Court in the Bronx, charges that Edwin Rivera targeted Spanish-speaking communities, offering legal services on immigration matters even though he is not an attorney. Rivera operated under the names "Inmigración Hoy" and "Inmigración Hoy News Today," out of an office at 1428 Zerega Avenue in the Bronx.

According to the complaint, Rivera advertised extensively in local Spanish-language media, including newspaper ads, radio shows, and a website promising to secure permanent residency for immigrants. Rivera charged consumers $1,500 to process applications pursuant to the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act of 2003 ("DREAM Act"), a federal proposal that has not been enacted. His advertisements falsely indicated that the DREAM Act was passed on November 25, 2003. If enacted, the DREAM Act would grant conditional permanent residency status to college students who meet certain residency qualifications.

"Unscrupulous individuals and corporations have taken advantage of the lack of affordable legal services in immigrant communities by charging thousands of dollars to those desperate to adjust their immigration status," said Spitzer. "We will not tolerate those who prey on immigrants who are seeking a better life for themselves and their children by promising to secure permanent residency."

U.S. Congressman José Serrano said: "Immigration fraud is a serious issue affecting our community. It is important that people know not to duped by fraudsters and crooks."

The complexity and ever-changing rules and regulations associated with immigration law increase the likelihood of consumer fraud by dishonest immigration consultants seeking to take advantage of consumers with immigration law matters. Consumers who use these services may lose thousands of dollars to fraudulent businesses and individuals, become subject to deportation proceedings, or be accused of attempting to file false papers with immigration authorities.

The lawsuit seeks seek injunctive relief, restitution, damages and costs.

Assemblyman José Rivera said: "Immigrants who make The Bronx their home should not be victimized. This is an important step towards empowering our immigrant communities."

Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin noted: "I have heard stories of heartless individuals able to convincingly deceive immigrants by promising them green cards and other documents. It is an outrage to be treated in a way that is hurtful, dishonest, and a disincentive to positive assimilation."

"It's a good day for immigrants. They will no longer be invisible," said Councilman Stewart. "Those who defraud immigrants will not be able to take an immigrant's money without providing service."

"We commend the Attorney General for filing this lawsuit," said Margaret McHugh, executive director of The New York Immigration Coalition, an umbrella policy and advocacy organization of more than 150 groups in New York that work with immigrants and refugees. "This is the type of vigorous action that is necessary to combat rampant fraud against immigrants and protect New York's communities."

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 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 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 legislation sponsored by Senator Frank Padavan and Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin (A7137-B/S.3314-B) which recently passed both houses of the State Legislature but has not been signed into law, would significantly strengthen enforcement against those who mislead immigrants by classifying any violation as a misdemeanor crime. Among other provisions the bill would authorize the Attorney General to seek an injunction, penalties up to $7,500 per violation and restitution. On June 28th the New York City Council passed similar local legislation, sponsored by Councilman Kendall Stewart, that if signed into law would provide enforcement authority to 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 case in being handled by Assistant Attorney General Roberto Lebrón, of the AG's Harlem Regional Office, under supervision of AG In- Charge Guy Mitchell.