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(SACRAMENTO) – Attorney General Bill Lockyer today announced his office had obtained temporary restraining orders against three Sacramento immigration consultants and their companies charged with illegally operating an immigration consultant business by not posting the bond required by law to protect clients.
"When an unscrupulous immigration consultant fails to obtain the required bond, an injured client has no recourse if the consultant shuts down his or her operation in the middle of the night, or hides the company's fraudulently-obtained assets," Lockyer said. "The bonds are essential to protect the client, and we will vigorously prosecute firms that blatantly defy state law while taking advantage of immigrants seeking lawful services."
Filed in January, the complaints charge three immigration consultants and their companies with violating California's Immigration Consultants Act and Unfair Competition Law by advertising and acting as immigration consultants without filing the required bond with the California Secretary of State's Office.
Sacramento Superior Court Judge Loren E. McMaster on Thursday issued temporary restraining orders against two individuals and their companies: Corinna W.K. Chan and Trust International, at 2114 11th Street; and Hnan Alhallaq and Gateway Express, also known as AA Gateway Express, at 721 J Street. Also on Thursday, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Shelleyanne W.L. Chang issued a temporary restraining order against Elizabeth Sutfin Blakeway and her business, Manning & Sutfin, at 1130 8th Street.
The temporary restraining orders prohibit the companies and their owners from conducting business in violation of state law. The Attorney General is asking the courts to permanently enjoin the defendants from violating the law and is seeking civil penalties of $100,000 per defendant as well as reasonable attorney fees and costs.
Under California's Immigration Consultants Act, any person who implies that he or she is an immigration consultant must have a $50,000 bond on file with the Secretary of State. The bond is required to protect clients who are injured when an immigration consultant engages in fraudulent conduct or fails to provide services that have been paid for.
The complaints allege the defendants unlawfully held themselves out as immigration consultants by advertising in the Sacramento County SBC Pacific Bell Smart Yellow Pages under the heading "Immigration & Naturalization Consultants" despite not having filed the bond required to offer such services.
The law allows exemptions to filing a surety bond if the consultant is licensed to practice law, is a nonprofit, tax-exempt corporation or is authorized to represent individuals before the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services or the Immigration Courts and Board of Immigration Appeals. None of the defendants fell into any of those categories.
The complaints allege Chan has engaged in illegal conduct since December 2003, Alhallaq since November 2003, and Blakeway since June 2003.
In addition to advertising in the Yellow Pages, Alhallaq also is alleged to have distributed flyers in Spanish that describe the documents clients must bring with them in order to receive immigration consultant services, including marriage licenses, tax returns and passports. Blakeway is alleged to also have distributed instructional documents in Spanish and English describing the costs of the company's services and the steps clients must take to have the company prepare various immigration documents.
Lockyer urged consumers seeking immigration services to be cautious when selecting a firm to represent their interests. Many services may only be provided by an attorney, and consumers should make sure those offering services are in good standing with the State Bar. Consumers also should make sure an immigration consultant has posted a $50,000 bond with the Secretary of State's office, as required by law to protect clients.
Consumers seeking immigration consultant services may go the Attorney General's website at http://www.ag.ca.gov/immigrant/publications.htm to read Immigration Services – Protecting Your Consumer Rights. The publication is available in Armenian, Chinese, English, Hmong, Korean, Spanish and Vietnamese.
Consumers who believe they may have been victimized by an unscrupulous immigration consultant may call the Attorney General's Office of Immigrant Assistance at (888) 587-0557.