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State: Businesses that promised help rip off immigrant clients

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

CLIFFVIEW PILOT HAS IT FIRST: Immigration service providers in Union City, West New York, Clifton and Paterson exploited the meaning of the word “notario” in Spanish-speaking countries, conning clients here into paying them hundreds — and even thousands — for work that only lawyers are licensed to do, state authorities charged today.

A naturalized citizen nearly saw her daughters taken from her and deported because of one of the agencies named in the complaint brought by Attorney General Paula Dow’s office and the state Divison of Consumer Affairs, authorities said.

State investigators caught on very easily: Anonymous sources clipped newspaper advertisements for the illicit businesses and sent them on to Consumer Affairs.

Records show a state investigator told a program director at Helping Honduras Inc., at 38th Street and Kennedy Boulevard in Union City that he was hoping to marry a woman who was here on an expired visa but was afraid she’d be deported if authorities found out.

The woman, Blanca Hilda Cardenas, then showed the investigator some forms that anyone can access online, offered to

Trouble is: Cardenas is neither a lawyer nor a notary public, state officials said. She charged the investigator $2,570, including what she said was $750 for her servivces, the complaint alleges.

“Business that seek to exploit their affinity to immigrant groups, and those that deliberately capitalize on confusion as to what a notary public can do in this country, too often victimize legal immigrants who are seeking to extend their visas or attain permanent residency,” Dow said.

“Some may exploit the ignorance of others, but they cannnot plead ignorance about their own actions,” she said.

State and federal authorities have been trying to get the word out that people who prey on those who don’t know better have quite a lesson coming, the attorney general said.

Dow said the businesses took out ads offering immmigration services, including help with naturalization, in several Spanish-language newspapers — including Cambio and El Especialito . They then hit up their customers for anywhere from $400 to $2,900 for pereparing legal immigration documents, she said.

One of those customers turned out to be a DCA agent posing as a client, Neal Buccino of the agency said.

As he did in Union City, the undercover DCA agent claimed that he was hoping to marry a woman who was here on an expired visa. He told Beltra Gomez, an owner of Beltra’s Agency of Clifton, that he was afraid that obtaining a marriage license would alert the state and that his fiancée could be deported, the state complaint says.

According to the complaint, on file in Trenton, Gomez “chuckled and advised Investigator Mejia to get married and then come back to discuss.”

The investigator, continuing the ruse, took it a step further, asking whether it was a problem that his fiancée misplaced her student visa.

“Gomez responded that losing the visa was not a problem and Gomez could fill out a form to resolve the issue,” the complaint says.

It says she also gave him a price of $400 to complete the form — which she wasn’t legally authorized to do. A notary fee ordinarily is $2.50.

The investigator had a similar experience at Helping Honduras Inc. of Union City (38th Street and Kennedy Boulevard) and its corporate secretary and program director, Bianca Hilda Cardenas, according to the complaint.

Both companies are charged with violating state consumer fraud laws and advertising regulations, as are Kingdom Vision Service Corp. of West New York and its president, Denise Perez, and Corazon Travel Agency of Paterson and it owner.

State law specifically states that a notary public in New Jersey “may not prepare a legal document, give advice on legal matters, or appear as a representative of another person in a legal proceeding.”

The fees are set by regulations and are “relatively modest,” authorities say.

Consumer Affairs Director Thomaas R. Calcagni cited several reliable sources that can explain what these agencies can and can’t do, under state law. They include the site: Find Legal Service . The division also encourages those in need to call 1-800-375-5283 or 973-504-6200 .

The site tells consumers who can’t or don’t want to file their own forms shouldn’t be charged a lot of money for assistance — and under no circumtances should they listen to someone from such an agency who claims to “have a special knowledge of immigration law and procedure.”

Only lawyers or accredited representatives can give you legal advice about which forms to submit, explain immigration options you many have and be able to communicate with the federal government on your behalf (While “notario” or “notario public” in civil law countries may be synonymous with “attorny,” notaries in the U.S. hold only a “witness” position).

With these scammerd at work, legal immigrants lose money or even find themselves facing deportation due to documents filed fraudulently or not filed at all. Others crooks are in it only for the money.

Consumers in need or immigration assistance should seek help from legal agencies or from the Board of Board of Immigration, which has provided provide assitance for free or a small fee. They also are helping the overall picture by keeping their eyes open.

MORE: Combating Immigration Services Scams ” (English); “C ombating Immigration Services Scams ” (Spanish).

The complaints announced today follow those filed June 9 against businesses who are also accused of falsely representing that they were authorized to prepare immigration documents on behalf of clients ( SEE: ).

The complaints were announced as part of “Combating Immigration Services Scams,” a nationwide initiative announced last Thursday in Washington D.C. in which the Division of Consumer Affairs have joined with the U.S. government, several state attorneys general, and a number of city and county law enforcement authorities.

Nationwide, the initiative includes lawsuits and administrative actions against immigration service providers, as well as new consumer education efforts in multiple languages, and increased cooperation among enforcement partners.

Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of consumer abuse, can file a complaint
: . Or: 800-242-5846 (toll free within NJ) or 973-504-6200 .

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