Attorney general secures agreement that dissolves large fraudulent immigrant services organizations and will provide restitution for victimized immigrants
Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced a settlement agreement shuttering two of the nation's largest immigration services organizations and their principal. Operating in New York City as 501(c)(3) entities, Schneiderman said the International Immigrants Foundation Inc. ("IIF") and the International Professional Association Inc. ("IPA") both defrauded immigrants with false promises of citizenship and residency, engaged in the unauthorized practice of law, illegally charged exorbitant fees for services, and violated laws governing not-for-profit corporations. The agreement brings to a close a lawsuit that had been filed against the two organizations and their former president, Edward Juarez.
In addition to shutting down both organizations, the settlement requires that all remaining assets of the entities, approximately $2 to $3 million, be used to provide restitution to immigrants who were defrauded or overcharged by the organizations, with any amount remaining going to organizations providing immigration legal services. IPA will shut down immediately. IIF will shut down over the next two years, and is prohibited from providing immigration legal services during that period. In addition, the agreement prohibits Juarez, from engaging in immigration legal services or serving as a fiduciary for any not-for-profit corporation in New York or any entity that solicits charitable contributions.
"In shutting down organizations that defrauded thousands and obtaining restitution for the victims, justice has been done for the many immigrant communities of the state of New York," Schneiderman said. "Organizations like IIF and IPA prey upon vulnerable individuals who seek a better life in this country, siphoning their hard-earned money and sometimes destroying their chances to regularize their legal status here. My office is committed to combating immigration services fraud and ensuring that fraudulent organizations such as these no longer operate in our state."
The attorney general's office will soon issue a statement providing information on the restitution process, and outline the process for submitting claims and supporting documentation for restitution.
The attorney general's lawsuit alleged that IIF and IPA misrepresented their ability and qualifications to provide immigration-related legal services, made false promises guaranteeing specific legal results, and illegally charged excessive fees for their services. In addition, the lawsuit alleged that the entities and Juarez violated various laws governing the operations of not-for-profit corporations by wasting the entities' assets and engaging in self-dealing transactions. The attorney general's office found that IIF lured immigrants to purchase "memberships" with the organization by promising members they would receive special privileges such as free or low cost legal fees. Individuals were required to pay a $100 registration fee plus $30 per month. Once members requested legal representation, however, they were directed to IPA, where they were generally required to pay at least several thousand dollars more to have immigration papers prepared and filed - often by non-attorneys who were unqualified to do such work.
The illegal actions of IIF and IPA caused disastrous - and sometimes irreversible - problems for New York's immigrant families. In addition to paying substantial fees, clients were put at risk of permanent damage to their and their families' status as a result of receiving incorrect immigration-related legal advice. IIF and IPA solicited victims through newspaper advertisements, articles, conferences, and television and radio shows, amassing thousands of clients for this scheme.
In one instance, an individual was eligible to obtain a Green Card, but lost his opportunity due to the organizations' delay and negligence, despite paying more than $18,000 in fees and costs to them. Other clients were subject to deportation. Others paid thousands of dollars more than necessary for services.
New York state law prohibits a non-lawyer from practicing law, appearing as or purporting to be an attorney-at-law, or providing legal advice of any kind. Non-lawyers can only provide clerical services, such as translating or mailing documents, unless they have been accredited and their organization has been recognized by the federal Board of Immigration Appeals. IIF and IPA engaged in all such prohibited conduct. Further, by charging excessive fees for the services purportedly provided, IIF and IPA acted inconsistently with the charitable purpose for which they were formed, in violation of the New York State Not-For-Profit Corporation Law.
Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, said, "We are pleased that the attorney general arrived at this settlement for the immigrant community. Too often, immigrants looking to change their status in this state happen upon scams that put them worse off, financially and legally. The attorney general's commitment to putting an end to these practices confirms his dedication to improving the lives of immigrants in the state of New York."
Angela Fernandez, Esq., executive director of Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights, said, "This settlement agreement sends the message loud and clear to fraudulent immigration services providers that the unauthorized practice of law will not be tolerated. The attorney general's ongoing effort to combat immigration fraud continues to protect immigrant communities throughout this state, and warns other would-be predators that the costs of such illegality will be high."
To date, the office of the attorney general has conducted numerous investigations and filed several lawsuits against organizations that have engaged in the unauthorized practice of law and defrauded immigrant communities, helping to shutter fraudulent businesses across the state.
The case against IIF, IPA, and Juarez is being handled by assistant attorneys general Allegra Chapman and Steven Shiffman, under the supervision of Civil Rights Bureau Chief Kristen Clarke, Charities Bureau Enforcement Section Chief David Nachman, Charities Bureau Chief Jason Lilien, and First Deputy of Affirmative Litigation Janet Sabel,with assistance from investigators John McManus and David Negron.
The attorney general's office is committed to combating unlawful immigration service's fraud carried out by organizations and individuals. If you have been a victim of immigration fraud, contact the attorney general's immigration services fraud unit hotline at 212-416-6149 or email [email protected].