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(LOS ANGELES) – Attorney General Bill Lockyer today announced his office obtained a $479,500 civil judgment against Immigration Solution Center and its owner, charged in October 2001 with violating state laws regulating the business of immigration consulting.
"This business was preying on immigrants by falsely portraying itself as a law office, engaging in deceptive advertising and promising various immigration services it could not legally provide," Lockyer said. "Clients were charged an average of $1,500 per person for services that the company couldn't legally perform. This judgment should serve as a signal that we will continue to aggressively protect the rights of consumers seeking immigration services."
Signed Monday by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Thomas L. Willhite Jr., the judgment found Marina Balladares and her company, Balladares & Associates Inc., doing business as Immigration Solution Centers, committed a minimum of 312 violations of the California Immigration Consultants Act and/or California's False Advertising statute in the operation of Immigration Solution Centers. The court approved a permanent injunction, prohibiting Balladares and the company from engaging in false advertising and the unlicensed practice of law.
Under the judgment, the company, and its owner and employees are required to:
Ensure all advertisements include, in both English and Spanish, a prominent notice that the businesses is not a law firm and the owner is not a lawyer.
Refrain from making any untrue or misleading statements in advertising services.
Prominently display in English and Spanish for every employee engaging in immigration consulting work the employee’s full name, address, evidence of compliance with bonding requirements, notices that the immigration consultant is not an attorney and the current and total fee for each service.
Ensure that a $50,000 bond is filed with the Secretary of State’s Office for every immigration consultant employed by the business.
Refrain from making untrue or misleading statements or giving oral guarantees or promises regarding a customer’s likelihood of obtaining legal residency in the United States.
Provide clients with contracts printed in both English and Spanish.
The judgment caps a lengthy legal battle that included a five-day trial that began October 15 in Los Angeles Superior Court. Prior to the trial, the Attorney General's office obtained settlements with two attorneys and four non-attorneys associated with Immigration Solution Center.
In September 2003, the two attorney-defendants who worked for Immigration Solution Center, Gustavo Zarate and Alexis Torres, agreed to pay civil fines of $150,000 and $15,000, respectively. Four other non-attorneys associated with the business agreed to pay fines of $1,000 each. They are Mariela Lizcano, Norma Turcios, Liliam Tawadros and Cinthia Rivera.
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 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.