Attorney General James Protects Immigrants from Fraud and Intimidation

NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James today announced an agreement that will stop a fraudulent immigrant assistance service provider who misled and threatened immigrants. An investigation by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) found that Jacquelin Mercado, an immigrant assistance service provider in Yonkers, fraudulently claimed to be an attorney licensed in the United States, illegally offered legal advice, intimidated at least one customer by threatening to report them to immigration authorities, and violated New York’s immigrant protection laws from June 2020 to July 2022. As a result of today’s agreement, Mercado will pay nearly $10,000 in restitution to four different customers in Westchester and New York City, stop all false advertising of her services, and fully comply with the law.

“New Americans starting their lives in this country often need help navigating our immigration system,” said Attorney General James. “Jacquelin Mercado took advantage of that fact and used her position to intimidate and scam immigrants who relied on her for assistance and support. Every New Yorker, especially our most vulnerable, deserves to be treated with dignity and respect and should be confident that the services they pay for are legitimate. I encourage any immigrant who thinks they may have been taken advantage of to contact my office and help us ensure bad actors and scammers are taken down.”

Immigrant assistance service providers can help their customers by translating documents and providing other support with forms and applications. However, they are not attorneys and cannot provide legal advice or representation. New York law requires providers to follow certain rules — including posting signs explicitly stating they are not attorneys — to protect immigrants from scams and fraud. 

An investigation by OAG found that Mercado was in violation of numerous provisions of New York’s Immigrant Assistance Service Enforcement Act. From at least June 2020 to July 2022, Mercado fraudulently posed as a lawyer and used the title “attorney at law” even though she was not licensed to practice law in the United States. Mercado also unlawfully offered legal advice, potentially putting her customers in danger. The OAG’s investigation also found that she had threatened to report at least one customer to immigration authorities and threatened to undermine their efforts to secure lawful immigration status.

As a result of today’s agreement, Mercado must immediately stop all false advertising, explicitly state in any advertisements that she is not a licensed attorney, and pay restitution to four different customers totaling $9,946.48. In addition, Mercado must fully comply with all laws governing immigrant assistance service providers, including posting the necessary signs informing customers of their rights, updating her contracts to include language informing customers that she is not an attorney and cannot offer legal advice, and obtaining the necessary financial surety to make sure customers seeking refunds or compensation for damages will be paid.

“There are many legitimate resources, attorneys, and organizations dedicated to helping immigrants in New York, and as a state, we’ve invested tens of millions of dollars to help this population,” said New York Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. “I am so glad Attorney General James is taking on fraudulent immigrant assistance service providers who are looking to take advantage of this vulnerable community.”

“New immigrants to the United States face many challenges,” said State Senator Shelley Mayer. “Language barriers and unfamiliarity with our legal system may leave them vulnerable to intimidation and fraud. It is essential that those providing assistance are held to the highest possible standard. I appreciate the Attorney General's Office’s work that will result in an agreement that will include restitution to clients in Westchester and New York City, an end to false advertising, and compliance with the law. I thank Attorney General James for her commitment to protecting all New Yorkers, particularly our most vulnerable residents.”

“While immigrant assistance service providers play a crucial role in supporting immigrants, they must adhere to the law and protect the rights of those they serve,” said Westchester County Executive George Latimer. “This settlement secured by Attorney General James serves as a reminder that fraudulent practices and misrepresentation will not be tolerated, and that New York's immigrant protection laws will be enforced to ensure the safety and well-being of all immigrants.”

“Those who target and exploit immigrants should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and I commend Attorney General Letitia James in ensuring that those who are seeking a better life in this country are treated with dignity and respect,” said Assemblymember J. Gary Pretlow.

“We pride ourselves on welcoming those seeking refuge and the American dream here,” said Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano. “But when bad actors prey on these individuals for their own self-gain, their fraudulent acts must have direct punitive consequences. I applaud Attorney General James for taking swift action in this case to protect the good people of New York and to ensure no other immigrants fall victim.”

“My office applauds and supports the efforts of Attorney General Letitia James in her commitment to protect the vulnerable population of immigrants seeking assistance and services in the city of Yonkers and the surrounding greater New York City area,” said Yonkers City Council President Lakisha Collins-Bellamy. “Wrongdoers, be put on notice that your actions will not be tolerated, and that you will be swiftly prosecuted and brought to justice.” 

“It is very unfortunate that some in our communities would choose to misrepresent the immigration legal system to deceive and hurt those who are trying only to make a better life for themselves and their families,” said Yonkers City Councilmember Corazon Pineda-Isaac. “These predatory and manipulative actions take advantage of some of our most vulnerable populations. This action taken by the New York Attorney General's office is so important. It sends a strong message to other would-be scammers that here in Yonkers, scams targeting our residents will not be tolerated.” 

Attorney General James is committed to protecting immigrants and all vulnerable New Yorkers. Anyone who believes they may have been the victim of fraud is encouraged to report complaints by filling out a complaint form or calling 1-800-771-7755. Any identifying information provided to the office will be protected according to state law and policies on the safeguarding of identifying information.

This matter was handled by Assistant Attorney General in Charge of the Westchester Regional Office Andy Aujla, Assistant Attorney General Fellow Yomidalys Güichardo, Investigator Peter Schottenfeld, and Supervising Investigator Michael Christian all of the Westchester Regional Office. The Westchester Regional Office is a part of the Division of Regional Affairs led by Deputy Attorney General Jill Faber and overseen by First Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy.