ATTORNEY GENERAL CUOMO SUES IMMIGRATION SERVICES COMPANIES FOR TARGETING AND DEFRAUDING HAITIANS IMPACTED BY RECENT EARTHQUAKE
Victims Paid Large Sums for Legal Services that the Companies Were Not Authorized to Perform and Often Did Not Provide
Lawsuits Seek to Shut Down Companies and Obtain Restitution for Victims
Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo today announced lawsuits against several companies for targeting the Haitian community with fraudulent immigration services after the January earthquake that devastated much of the Haitian capital region.
The lawsuits allege that the companies and their owners - who are not lawyers - have been illegally providing legal advice and services to Haitian immigrants. As non-lawyers, the owners are prohibited from providing legal advice or representing anyone before immigration authorities. Further, the lawsuits allege that the companies are charging Haitian immigrants thousands of dollars for processing immigration applications that could be filed for free through a waiver. This case is part of the Attorney General's ongoing investigation into immigration fraud.
The Attorney General filed lawsuits against: Chay Pa Lou Community Center, Inc., Delegue Tax Consultant, Inc., and their owner and operator Jean Michel; as well as Rincher's Multi-Service a/k/a Rincher Bookstore a/k/a Rincher Associates a/k/a Haitian American Entrepreneur's Group, LLC, and their owners and operators Deslande Seixas-Rincher, and Sharlene Seixas-Rincher. All companies are located in Brooklyn, New York.
"In light of the recent devastating earthquake in Port-au-Prince, New York's Haitian residents have sadly been a target for immigration scams, bringing further pain to a community that has already suffered so much," said Attorney General Cuomo. "These cases are a part of my office's ongoing crackdown on immigration scams throughout New York and I urge anyone who has been affected by this type of fraud to contact my office."
After the earthquake in Haiti in January 2010, the United States Department of Homeland Security allowed Haitian citizens in the United States to seek Temporary Protected Status ("TPS") to stay in the country for eighteen months. After Homeland Security made its TPS announcement, the Attorney General's office received complaints that Haitian immigrants were being targeted through advertisements by companies offering fraudulent and illegal immigration services at exorbitant prices.
The Attorney General's investigation revealed that these companies charged Haitian immigrants for processing immigration applications that could be filed for free through a waiver or for a nominal fee. The companies also charged some immigrants for processing applications even when they were not even eligible to stay in the United States. Further, some immigrants paid for application processing and legal services that were never provided.
The lawsuits seek to permanently shut down these companies and prevent them from providing immigration legal services. The lawsuits also seek restitution for the victims who have paid thousands of dollars for legal services the companies were not authorized to provide and in many instances did not provide. The Attorney General is authorized to seek an injunction, penalties of up to $7,500 per violation and restitution. The companies owned and operated by Jean Michel face liability for over 100 known violations; the companies owned and operated by the Seixas-Rinchers face liability for over 30 known violations. The Attorney General previously obtained a court order against Chay Pa Lou Community Center, Inc., which has frozen their assets and precludes them from destroying documents and transferring assets.
The Office of the Attorney General will coordinate with several New York legal associations to help handle the companies' existing cases and to protect innocent victims.
Under state and federal law, only lawyers or accredited representatives can represent individuals before immigration authorities. Under New York State law, it is unlawful to mislead or defraud any person in immigration-related services. New York law also requires anyone providing immigration services to comply with advertising, signage, and surety requirements, and to give consumers written contracts in both the consumer's native language and English that detail their services and cancellation policy. Further, it is illegal for not-for-profit immigrant service providers to charge excessive fees for services; the services must be provided free of charge or at a very nominal rate.Today's action is the latest stage of Attorney General Cuomo's ongoing efforts to protect immigrants and their families from being targeted by fraudulent immigration services in New York. Other actions include:
- In April 2010, the Attorney General shut down American Immigrants Federation for defrauding immigrants with false promises of citizenship, engaging in the unauthorized practice of law, and illegally charging exorbitant fees for services. The organization, its president Estela Figueredo, and its affiliates had to shut down all of their operations and pay $1.2 million in restitution.
- In March 2010, the Attorney General obtained a $3 million court judgment against a Queens County individual, Miriam Hernandez, for defrauding immigrants by claiming that she could help them gain citizenship.
- In January 2010, the Attorney General sued and obtained a temporary restraining order against International Immigrants Foundation, International Professional Association, and their President Edward Juarez for engaging in fraud and the unauthorized practice of law. The case is currently pending in the New York State Supreme Court.
- In August 2009, the Attorney General shut down three companies - Immigration Solutions and Systems, Inc. and its owner Mary DiSerio of Manhattan; Alisandra Multiservices, Inc. and its owner Sandra A. Peguero of Brentwood, Long Island; and All Immigration Services and its owners Ruth A. Shalom and Isaac Shalom of Great Neck, Long Island - for providing unauthorized and fraudulent legal services to immigrant communities and required that they pay full restitution to all victims. The companies were required to pay more than $100,000 in penalties and were permanently prohibited from operating immigration services businesses.
- In August 2009, the Attorney General sued three companies - Immigration Community Service Corporation and its owner Vincent I. Gonzalez; Professional Solutions Consultants (d/b/a Reliable Clerical Services and Reliable Immigration Services) and its owner Clover A. Perez; and Centro Santa Ana and its owner Ana Lucia Baquero - all located in Queens for providing unauthorized and fraudulent legal services to immigrant communities and is seeking injunctive relief, restitution, and penalties. These cases are currently pending in the New York Supreme Court.
Edward Dominguez, Executive Director of Catholic Migration, said, "As Haitians continue to focus on recovery and rebuilding, it is reassuring to know Attorney General Cuomo is taking these steps to ensure that victims, their families, and others in the community are not being taken advantage of by fraudulent immigration organizations. We look forward to continuing to work with the Attorney General's Office in identifying perpetrators and bringing them to justice."
Chung-Wha Hong, Executive Director of New York Immigration Coalition, said, "We welcome our growing Haitian community to New York, many of whom have been displaced by a horrible and unspeakable tragedy. For any individual or group to try to scam these families who are trying to rebuild their lives is akin to another atrocity. Attorney General Cuomo's efforts to protect Haitian immigrants and all New Yorkers from scam artists and deceptive ploys are to be commended."
The immigrant community is a vital part of the fabric of New York State. There are more than 3,000,000 immigrants living in New York State. Immigrants from 148 different countries represent thirty-six percent of New York City's population, forty-three percent of its workforce, and sixty percent of homeowners.
All New Yorkers should be aware of organizations and not-for-profits providing immigration services for exorbitant fees and without the proper accreditation. A list of free and low-cost immigration services that are available through not-for-profits and attorneys can be found through the U.S. Department of Justice, the New York State Immigration Hotline, and the Board of Immigration Appeals. Haitians staying in the United States only have until July 20, 2010 to apply for TPS.
The cases are being handled by Assistant Attorney General Vilda Mayuga and Assistant Deputy Counselor Elizabeth De León, and Investigators John McManus and Angel Laporte, under the supervision of Special Deputy Attorney General for Civil Rights Alphonso B. David and Chief Counsel for Civil Rights Spencer Freedman.
If you have been a victim of immigration assistance fraud, please contact the Attorney General's Immigration Services Fraud Unit Hotline at (866) 390-2992 or visit www.ag.ny.gov .
The lawsuits are available at www.ag.ny.gov .