LOS ANGELES(Los Angeles City Attorney) – Continuing his focus on stopping scams targeting immigrants, City Attorney Mike Feuer today announced that his office has filed multiple criminal charges against a San Fernando Valley woman, her immigration consulting business, and two associates following consumer complaints and an undercover investigation. On at least two occasions alleged actions by the business have adversely impacted the immigration status of victims.
“My office continues to fight to prevent immigration fraud schemes from ripping off families and destroying their dreams,” said City Attorney Feuer. “Scam artists who attempt to victimize immigrants will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
“The Los Angeles County Department of Consumer and Business Affairs is committed to educating, defending, and speaking up for the County’s most vulnerable residents,” said Brian J. Stiger, Director. “If you believe you’ve been a victim of an immigration service or any other scam, we want to help you.”
Gloria Dora Saucedo, 65, and her business Hermandad Mexicana Transnacional, Inc. (7915 Van Nuys Boulevard) were each charged with five misdemeanor counts including; three counts of failing to comply with the Immigration Consultants Act and two counts of unlicensed practice of law. Business associates Carmen Onchi, 27 and Maria Chavez, 33 were also charged with one count of unlicensed practice of law. If convicted, Saucedo faces up to five years in jail and $32,000 in fines. The other defendants could face up to one year in jail and $1,000 in fines.
Arraignment is scheduled for April 15, 2016 in Department 48 of the Criminal Courts Building. Deputy City Attorney Onica Cole is prosecuting the case.
In September 2012, the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer and Business Affairs (DCBA) received a complaint from a consumer alleging that she had paid $4,275 to employees from Hermandad Mexicana for assistance in obtaining a U Visa. The customer allegedly did not receive any service and was later denied an immigration petition for failure to submit the requested documentation. Investigators subsequently conducted three undercover investigations in 2014 and noted numerous violations of the Immigrant Consultant Act including employees allegedly providing legal advice on two occasions.
In a separate incident reported in February 2016, a victim paid $2,500 to Hermandad Mexicana after consulting with the defendants in order to adjust her immigration status after her husband, a U.S. Navy veteran, passed away in December 2014. The victim was later denied permanent residency after Hermandad Mexicana failed to inform the victim to appear for an interview with Immigration officials. The business allegedly also failed to inform the victim about subsequent correspondence from immigration officials notifying the victim to respond to her case or immediately leave the country. As a result of these errors, the victim was denied her residency status and the Social Security Administration canceled her monthly benefits from her late husband due to her unlawful status in the United States.
Immigration consultants are not lawyers and have a very limited and specific role in helping someone complete the process to change their immigration status. The limited services immigration consultants can offer include completing immigration forms but can’t tell consumers which forms they need, translating answers without advising consumers what answers to provide, securing supporting documents, submitting forms and making free referrals to licensed attorneys.
Immigration consultants must give customers a written contract, in English and in the consumer’s language that gives customers a three-day right to cancel it without any charge. Immigration consultants must also post signs to make it clear that they are not licensed attorneys, and they must tell customers that they can’t provide legal advice.
The prosecution of Saucedo is part of an ongoing comprehensive enforcement and education campaign spearheaded by City Attorney Feuer, DCBA, and legal aid organizations to address immigration scams. Individuals who believe they have been a victim of Hermandad Mexicana should call DCBA investigators Annette Gonzalez at 323-881-7099, or Janet Godoy at 213-974-7241. Other consumers who believe they are victims of immigration consultant fraud should contact the DCBA at (800) 593-8222, or file a complaint DCBA’s website: www.dcba.lacounty.gov.
Consumers can find additional tips and information on the City Attorney’s website :http://www.lacityattorney.org/#!immigration-fraud/c16k8, and on DCBA’s website: www.dcba.lacounty.gov.