Bryan Cohen May 14, 2014, 6:16pm

SAINT PAUL, Minn. (Legal Newsline) - Minnesota Attorney General Lisa Swanson filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against a woman and her companies for allegedly posing as an attorney and charging immigrants thousands of dollars for legal work.

Ornella Hammerschmidt and her two companies, The Legacy Firm Corporation and American Group US, allegedly charged Spanish-speaking immigrants with limited English language proficiency as much as $12,000 for legal work on immigration matters. Hammerschmidt and her companies allegedly helped clients on applications for citizenship, asylum and other immigration matters despite not being legally authorized to perform such services.

"This is an example of someone exploiting the complexity and cost of the legal process to their own advantage and to the detriment of others," Swanson said.

Hammerschmidt, who is not an attorney, allegedly charged impoverished immigrants thousands in fees, took money from clients for services that were not provided and falsified signatures on immigration filings. Hammerschmidt also allegedly held herself out as an attorney and held her companies out as being capable of providing immigration legal services.

Swanson's lawsuit alleges Hammerschmidt and her companies violated the state's immigration services law, the unauthorized practice of law statute and consumer protection laws. The suit seeks the payment of restitution to consumers and an injunction to prevent future harm against victims.

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