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(SAN FRANCISCO) – Attorney General Bill Lockyer today filed separate lawsuits seeking to shut down five unregistered Bay Area immigration consultant businesses for violating state laws regulating immigration consultants. San Francisco Superior Court Judge James J. McBride on Thursday granted temporary restraining orders prohibiting the companies from acting as immigration consultants until they comply with the law.
"These greedy, fly-by-night businesses deliberately ignore state consumer protection laws in their quest to rip off immigrants who pay hard-earned money to establish new lives for themselves and their families in California," Lockyer said. "We expect these cases will sound a warning bell to other so-called immigration consultants. If you are unlawfully operating in this state, we will shut you down."
The individuals running these businesses are alleged to have violated state laws protecting consumers from unscrupulous "immigration consultants." The businesses advertised themselves as "immigration consultants" or as providing "immigration services" in newspapers, the Yellow Pages, online, on business cards or by posting signs in the windows of their businesses. Yet none of the "immigration consultants" had filed a $50,000 bond with the Secretary of State's Office, as required by law.
The lawsuits seek temporary restraining orders and preliminary injunctions. The defendants also will be subject to paying stiff penalties for operating without a bond and reimbursing the state for investigation and prosecution costs.
Named in the complaints were the following San Francisco businesses and individuals:
MG & Associates and Manuel H. Gomez
J&J Lugo Services, Judith Lugo and Jorge Lugo
Tony Moscoso Services, Tony's Services, Tony Moscoso and AlvaroBravo
Immigration Support Services, E. Leon Waki and Masamichi Yamasaki
Olympia Institute, Sammy Tang and Kuo Chan
In 2001, Lockyer filed lawsuits against major Los Angeles immigration consultant companies that were illegally portraying themselves as lawyers, engaging in fraudulent advertising and violating state laws regulating immigration consultants.
In 1994, the Legislature passed a law requiring immigration consultants to be bonded. The Attorney General sponsored a bill that went into effect Jan. 1, 2002, requiring anyone who advertises as or holds themselves out to be an immigration consultant to also file a $50,000 bond with the Secretary of State's Office. SB 1194 by Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, bolstered penalties against unscrupulous non-attorneys who promote themselves as "immigration consultants" and offer unlawful legal advice to immigrants seeking help in, obtaining jobs, establishing citizenship and other activities. The law authorizes courts to award financial damages, up to $100,000 in civil penalties to victims, as well as attorneys' fees and other compensation.
Lockyer also sponsored legislation last year that makes it clear the attorney general, district attorney or city attorney also may seek civil penalties of up to $100,000 and injunctive relief against immigration consultants who violate state law. That measure, AB 1999 by Assemblyman Lou Correa, D-Anaheim, went into effect Jan. 1, 2003.
Lockyer urged consumers to be careful when obtaining immigration services. The Attorney General's Office of Immigrant Assistance, which he established in 2001, has developed a brochure, "Immigration Services: Protecting Your Consumer Rights," which is available in seven languages: Armenian, Chinese, English, Hmong, Korean, Spanish and Vietnamese. The brochures can be viewed at www.ag.ca.gov/immigrant/publications.htm
Californians who believe they may be victims of similar abuses by these companies should contact the Attorney General's Office of Immigrant Assistance by calling, toll-free, 1-888-587-0557.