AGs, FTC team up against immigration services companies

Bryan Cohen Jun. 9, 2011, 2:15am


WASHINGTON, D.C. (Legal Newsline) - As part of a nationwide crackdown, several attorneys general filed lawsuits Thursday against immigration services companies for accepting money but failing to help consumers with their immigration statuses.

Lawsuits were filed by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan against Martha Fernandez of West Chicago and Corrianne Chairez of Chicago, as well as against Calvin Meziere of Huntley, Illinois. The servicers allegedly accepted over $30,000 from consumers and used a variety of deceptive and misleading tactics to convince consumers that the government was considering their requests for a permanent residency, work permit, or U.S. citizenship.

The lawsuit against Fernandez and Chairez alleges that they conspired to solicit upfront fees based on the promises of helping two immigrants with their immigration paperwork, charging over $10,000 for work that was never completed. Fernandez allegedly promised a refund that never arrived.

Madigan alleges that Meziere tricked a group of immigrant workers in 2009 into paying him large upfront fees to help them obtain work permits allowing them to travel freely in and out of the United States. Madigan alleges that the defendant charged the consumers for credit checks, improving their bad credit history and for fake citizenship exams - all steps Meziere falsely claimed were necessary to gain a permit - allegedly costing consumers at least $25,000.

Madigan is requesting that the court enter into a permanent injunction against the three defendants barring them from providing immigration services in Illinois. She also seeks restitution for consumers, civil penalties of $50,000 for violating the Consumer Fraud Act and an additional $50,000 for each violation committed with the intent to defraud.

"The immigration process is often intimidating and confusing, which is why many people seek assistance," Madigan said. "But unfortunately, much of the help offered is expensive and illegitimate. That's why it's so important to know the warning signs of an immigration scam and where to find honest assistance."

Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler issued a cease and desist order against the Baltimore-based Latin Service LLC and owners Sinia B. Zelaya and Gelmin Arlis Portillo or allegedly falsely advertising that they were lawyers who could assist in immigration matters.

"Consumers who place their future in the hands of someone who falsely claims to be an immigration lawyer can face devastating consequences," Gansler said.

Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper also filed suit against Martha Salazar, doing business as Comunidad Hispana, for allegedly preparing immigration materials despite not being licensed as an attorney or working under the supervision of an attorney.

Cooper has required that the company cease offering illegal immigration consultant services, return the payments they received for the services to consumers and to cease calling themselves "Notarios" unless they disclose they were not licensed attorneys and were not authorized to practice law.

The attorneys general filed the suits along with the Federal Trade Commission as part of a crackdown against illegal immigration service providers.

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