Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Wednesday, February 13, 2019


Page 1


Lacey: Immigrant Fraud Unit Nabbing Con Artists


From staff and wire service reports


Deputy District Attorney Ryann Jorban, left—who is on the Immigrant Fraud Unit—looks on as District Attorney Jackie Lacey announces prosecutions during a news conference yesterday. Operating with virtual impunity in Los Angeles for years, con artists have long targeted immigrants desperate for help to become U.S. citizens and other expert legal help, defrauding them of life savings and only hastening their deportation or other disasters. But a new fraud unit at the District Attorney’s Office has been targeting the fraudsters since 2017, prosecuting eight cases that cheated at least 300 immigrants out of at least $3 million, prosecutors said yesterday.


Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey yesterday declared success by her office’s Notario Fraud Unit in cracking down on immigration fraud and the unlawful practice of law.

 “Our great diversity attracts more than our share of people seeking to manipulate and cheat some of our newest residents out of their hard-earned money,” Lacey said at a press conference. “As a result, many of our neighbors may be more likely to become victims of fraud and other financial crimes due to their cultural backgrounds and economic situations.”

 She said that all persons, irrespective of immigration status, deserve “to be protected against crime and to receive justice when they have been victimized.”

A fledgling fraud unit in Lacey’s office has since 2017 been targeting scammers, who had operated with virtual impunity in Los Angeles for years. Con artists have long targeted immigrants desperate for expert legal advice, defrauding some of their life savings.

The unit has prosecuted eight cases in which defendants cheated at least 300 immigrants, cumulatively, out of $3 million.

Before the unit was formed using money from a consumer protection settlement, Lacey said, not many such fraud cases were prosecuted in the county “because we didn’t have the resources and the training.”

Ryann Jorban, one of two prosecutors in the District Attorney’s Office assigned to the Notario Fraud Unit, said that fraudsters had considered themselves impervious to prosecution.

The term “notario” is often used interchangeably with “attorney” in some Latin American countries—though in California, it is illegal for immigration consultants to call themselves “notarios” because it implies that they are licensed attorneys.

The con artists tell Spanish-speaking immigrants that they’re “notorious” and can help them with their cases, collecting their money while telling them not to worry about important notices from the government, Jorban said, noting:

“They’ll say, ‘We’ll take care of everything,’ so they miss appointments or they don’t pay their fees.” Some victims have been deported as a result of the fraud, including so-called “Dreamers,” young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children who have been allowed to remain.

“Unfortunately, these con artists know that not only will they give them everything they can to protect their families and themselves but they will also be afraid to report, so there will be no repercussions,” Jorban said.

The Notario unit’s most recent conviction, that of 49-year-old Romina Zadorian of Montebello involved 91 victims defrauded of $667,000 between 2014 and 2017.

Prosecutors said Zadorian would claim she worked for the government or had special connections and falsely promised that she could expedite the processing of immigration documents.

She was sentenced last week to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to grand theft, extortion and producing false government documents.

In a similar case, 53-year-old Gregory Chavez of Porter Ranch was sentenced to 15 years in jail for defrauding 102 immigrants. Two others got jail terms between five and nine years in separate cases last year involving nearly 70 victims defrauded of more than $700,000m prosecutors said.

While many such schemes involve Spanish-speaking immigrants, the Notario unit also is working on cases involving Asian immigrants.

Regardless of where they’re from, immigrants without legal status need to realize they can report being victimized without worrying about being charged themselves, Lacey said.

“We take all complaints,” she said. “That’s the way we take these con artists out of commission, by taking them off the streets.”


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