OAKLAND, CA – The Oakland City Attorney’s Office has won a record $15.1 million judgment against an immigration consulting business that preyed on and defrauded Oakland families who sought legal residency in the U.S.
At a press conference today, City Attorney Barbara Parker announced the judgment against American Legal Services (ALS), which had three fraudulent immigration consulting businesses in Oakland. This is the largest award that the City Attorney’s Office has secured in litigation, and it likely is the largest judgment under California’s Immigration Consultants Act.
“This was a morally bankrupt enterprise that preyed on some of the most vulnerable members of our community,” Parker said. “This verdict sends a clear message to any other criminal enterprises that are defrauding immigrant families in Oakland. We will track you down, shut you down and recover the money you stole.”
Parker also thanked the Neighborhood Law Corps, the community law unit in the City Attorney’s Office, which began prosecuting the lawsuit against ALS in 2010 (Superior Court case # RG10496098).
ALS advertised itself as a legal service helping people navigate complex immigration law. However, none of its employees were attorneys. In fact, they were scam artists who repeatedly defrauded families by making false promises of citizenship and charging exorbitant fees up front – sometimes the life savings of their victims. The company then routinely acted against the interests of those who sought help and botched immigration applications, in some cases resulting in deportation proceedings.
The November 7 judgment issued by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Kimberly Colwell also imposes a permanent injunction barring the company and its members from operating as immigration consultants. The injunction will be served in the near future on the company’s one remaining storefront at 3230 Fruitvale Avenue.
To date the City Attorney’s Office has collected about $200,000 from insurance company defendants. All of that money is going to the 18 families identified as victims of ALS in the City’s lawsuit. Each of those victims will recover the money they paid to ALS, plus an additional payment of about $7,600. Victims of the company included individuals of Mexican, Cuban, Middle Eastern and Sudanese descent.
One of the victims, Rafael Casanova, spoke at today’s press conference. Mr. Casanova, a U.S. citizen, went to ALS for help with his wife’s immigration application. ALS charged the couple several thousand dollars, and duped Mr. Casanova’s wife and daughter into returning to Mexico, advising the family that she could successfully secure legal residency that way. ALS then filed the wrong paperwork, resulting in a decision barring Mr. Casanova’s wife from returning to the U.S. for 10 years.
The Alameda-based family that owns ALS reportedly fled the country after the City filed its lawsuit. However, the City Attorney’s Office is researching the ALS owners’ assets in the U.S. and we will seek to recover as much as we can from those assets.