Statement issued Wednesday:
INDIANAPOLIS – Acting on complaints that two businesspeople took advantage of consumers seeking immigration assistance, the Indiana Attorney General’s Office today filed two civil lawsuits – one in Indianapolis, the other in Fort Wayne – alleging the defendants performed immigration services without the required licenses and training to do so.
The two defendants offered immigration-related services to their Spanish-speaking clients, but neither defendant is a licensed attorney and neither is legally certified or trained to provide advice to clients on immigration law.
Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller is trying to raise awareness about the larger issue of non-English speakers seeking immigration assistance from individuals called “notarios” whose services may be unlawful. In the U.S., a notary public is a person certified to serve as a state-authorized witness for the notarization of documents. But in Spanish-speaking nations, the term “notario publico” can refer to an attorney with specialized training. If clients aren’t familiar with the legal distinction due to cultural or language barriers, then they could get stuck paying for immigration advice that is legally questionable from an individual not qualified to provide it.
“To profit from immigrants’ desperation over their legal status is considered ‘exploitation’ in any language,” Zoeller said. “In both lawsuits, my office is asking the court to stop these defendants from taking money from consumers for services they legally cannot provide.”
Named as defendants in the lawsuits the Attorney General filed today are:
- Evelyne O. Casiano, doing business as United Hispanic Caring Hearts, located at 840 E. Lewis St., Fort Wayne. The suit was filed today in Allen County Circuit Court.
- The Mexican Civic Association of Indiana Inc. and M. Esther Barber, doing business as Asociacion Civica Mexicana De Indiana Inc., located at 2226 Shelby St., Indianapolis. The suit was filed today in Marion County Civil Superior Court.
In the Indianapolis case, the Attorney General’s Office alleges that Barber has advertised herself to the Spanish-speaking community as someone who can assist with immigration issues. Since 2006, she allegedly selected, prepared and completed USCIS immigration forms for consumers for a fee, in violation of Indiana law. Because the immigration paperwork Barber submitted did not comply with legal requirements, two consumers lodged complaints that they were severely damaged by her actions.
In both lawsuits, the Attorney General alleges the defendants knowingly violated the Deceptive Consumer Sales Act by providing services without the required license and training. The suits seek injunctions against Barber and Casiano to prevent them from advising consumers about immigration policies, preparing USCIS forms on their behalf or accepting payment for attorney services without obtaining a license to practice law.
Each lawsuit also seeks consumer restitution for unlawfully obtained funds, civil penalties of up to $5,000 for each knowing violation and up to $500 for each intentional violation of the Deceptive Consumer Sales Act, and attorneys’ fees.
“It is important that foreign nationals who wish to follow the law and get their immigration paperwork in order not be deceived by fraudsters motivated by fees who are unqualified to give proper advice. Instead, legal advice should be sought only from a qualified attorney who is licensed to practice law in Indiana or a properly certified individual,” Zoeller said. “There are many legitimate attorneys who effectively practice immigration law and are well-prepared to serve this clientele.”
To check whether an attorney is licensed and in good standing in Indiana, visit the Indiana Supreme Court’s Roll of Attorneys web site at http://hats2.courts.state.in.us/rollatty/roa1_inp.jsp. Also, the Indiana State Bar Association can provide referrals to attorneys who practice immigration law. The United States Department of Justice’s roster of accredited immigration representatives can be found at http://www.justice.gov/eoir/statspub/raroster.htm.
In his consumer-protection role, Zoeller plans to meet with nonprofit organizations and agencies that serve the Spanish-speaking community to enlist their support in his effort to avoid cultural misunderstandings about what services non-attorneys such as notarios legally can and cannot provide in Indiana.
Entirely separate from the civil suits involving consumer complaints, the Attorney General’s Office utilized its limited criminal jurisdiction to serve a search warrant today on Barber’s business and residence as part of an investigation into possible tax offenses involving the Barber case only.
Investigators from the Attorney General’s Office and officers of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD) seized records from Barber’s residence and the Asociacion Civica Mexicana De Indiana, under a search warrant issued by Marion County Superior Criminal Court.
Records still are being reviewed, and no charges have been filed. Under Indiana law, failure to pay income tax or sales tax can be a felony offense, as can failure to keep tax records and failure to permit examination of tax records.
Casiano’s business was not searched.