Crime

L.A. man accused of posing as immigration lawyer, defrauding Santa Maria farmworkers

A Los Angeles County businessman has been accused of pretending to be an immigration attorney, illegally providing services to farmworkers in Santa Maria while charging them thousands of dollars.

The State Bar of California announced Friday that it had obtained an interim order to shut down an unlicensed law practice the agency says targeted and took advantage of immigrant farmworkers on the Central Coast.

The Los Angeles County Superior Court order assumed jurisdiction of the unauthorized law practice, which allows the State Bar to shut it down and reclaim client files and other records of the office of Vincent Enriquez.

Enriquez has been doing business as El Monte-based NVE Associates, Inc., but apparently solicited clients during a Santa Maria visit.

The court order obtained by the State Bar also authorizes the agency to freeze any bank account associated with the office, and includes an injunction against Enriquez.

A Dec. 11 hearing has been set for the case in a Los Angeles County courtroom.

“The State Bar argues that Enriquez offered legal services to farmworkers on California’s Central Coast, portraying himself as an immigration attorney,” the agency said in a news release.

“He was retained by several people in Santa Maria, ensured them they qualified for green cards, and provided legal advice. Following this, he filed asylum applications that resulted in removal proceedings being initiated against two of the clients.”

Enriquez fraudulently charged more than $12,000 in legal fees in these two matters, according to the State Bar allegation.

The State Bar previously sent cease-and-desist notices to Enriquez, but undertook additional enforcement measures when he did not comply with the initial warnings.

Former clients should contact the State Bar directly at 213.765.1636 to inquire whether any of the seized documents or files belong to them. Multilingual interpretation is available.

The State Bar has a dedicated unit to investigate and address the unauthorized practice of law.

Consumers contacting immigration consultants should be aware that the law allows them to translate answers to questions on state or federal forms, obtain copies of supporting documents and refer their clients to legal representation.

The use of the term notario is prohibited in California. Immigration consultants can’t represent clients in court or provide specific legal advice.

If they do, they could be prosecuted for the unauthorized practice of law.

People who have been targeted by someone who is unlicensed can file an unauthorized practice of law complaint with the State Bar against a non-attorney.

There is no cost to file a complaint. U.S. citizenship is not required to file a complaint and the State Bar will not ask about citizenship or immigration status.

The State Bar advises anyone in California to avoid fraud by taking some of the following steps:

Ask for the attorney’s full name and State Bar number. Before hiring the attorney or paying any sum of money, look up the attorney on the State Bar website, available by clicking here, or the state in which they are licensed, to see if their license is active and whether they have any history of discipline. Consumers can also call the State Bar at 800-843-9053.

Check to confirm an attorney representing you in immigration matters is licensed to practice before the Executive Office of Immigration Review.

Make sure to get a written contract as well as receipts for payments.

Be wary if someone requires cash payments and be sure to get a written receipt.

Also be wary of those who threaten to report your immigration status if you do not pay them immediately.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.
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