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CCE convenes community stakeholders to combat notario fraud

Since 2012, CCE’s Public Service Committee has been convening a workgroup of community stakeholders on the issue of notario or immigration consultant fraud.

Immigration consultant fraud is where a person misrepresents him or herself as a licensed attorney, particularly in immigrant communities, to provide legal advice for a fee but cannot provide legal representation because they are unauthorized to do so. These unauthorized legal consultants, who call themselves “notarios,” “notarios publicos,” or “immigration or visa consultants” will often charge exorbitant fees for legal services not properly delivered or in some cases never delivered to vulnerable immigrant populations. Many of these preyed upon immigrants will then face devastating consequences such as deportation or familial separation.

This group of community stakeholders, chaired by David Zetoony of Bryan Cave LLP, has been meeting monthly to share information about notarios operating in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia and to discuss strategies for governmental and private enforcement actions to stop their activities. The stakeholders have included individuals from the District of Columbia and Montgomery County prosecutors’ offices, DC Metropolitan Police Department, the Mayor’s Office on Latino Affairs, several federal agencies, Ayuda, and a variety of other legal services providers and advocacy organizations.

Last month, Bryan Cave in conjunction with Catholic Charities Immigration Legal Services of the Archdiocese of Washington, DC litigated a case, Flores v. Ramirez, involving one of the largest reported scams against immigrants in Virginia. The defendant in this matter held himself out as an “immigration attorney” and scammed a reported 70 to 80 immigrant victims who sought legal representation. The suit resulted in a settled judgment of $25,000 and an injunction barring the defendant from providing, or advertising, legal services. The defendant in this case also faced criminal charges brought by the Fairfax County prosecutors’ office and will likely serve a two-year sentence.

Ayuda, working with a team of researchers from the Georgetown University Law Center Community Justice Project (GULC Project), released a report earlier this month that surveyed notario fraud in the District of Columbia and addressed barriers in accessing justice for these victims as well as available legal remedies. In the coming months, the Ayuda/GULC Project plans to produce a training manual for immigration lawyer practitioners on notario fraud.

CCE’s Notario Identification and Enforcement Workgroup will continue to monitor notario fraud complaints in the Washington, DC metro area, ways to improve regional coordination around these complaints, and identify new issues relevant to the deception of immigrants and the unauthorized practice of law. While some national groups have convened looking at notario fraud on a national level, CCE’s Notario Enforcement Workgroup is the first of its kind to bring together DC, Maryland, and Virginia stakeholders to report, collaborate and share resources in addressing this issue across the three jurisdictions.

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