Wednesday, October 1, 2003
Local Immigration Consulting Firm to Close Under Settlement Approved by Court, Lockyer Says
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
A stipulated judgment in a suit brought by the state requires a Los Angeles immigration consulting firm to close in December, Attorney General Bill Lockyer said yesterday.
Terms of the judgment entered by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Thomas L. Willhite Jr. obligate Immigration World Wide Services of 1324 Wilshire Blvd. to close by Dec. 23, Lockyer said in a statement. The closure will be monitored by the Attorney General’s Office.
The firm is one of two sued in October 2001. The suits alleged the two firms were “falsely holding themselves out as a law office, attorneys, attorney representatives...and/or immigration specialists, promising legal services they could not provide and guaranteeing favorable and speedy results that they had no reasonable basis in fact to make.”
IWWS and the Immigration Solution Center, 1645 W. Beverly Blvd., created “an illegal scheme to sell immigration and other legal services to Latin American immigrants residing in and around Los Angeles County,” the suits alleged.
An Oct. 14 trial is set for ISC and its owner, Marina Balladares, who did not settle with the Attorney General’s Office. But two ISC attorneys—Gustavo Zarate and Alexis Torres—and four non-attorneys—Mariela Lizcano, Norma Turcios, Liliam Tawadros and Cinthia Rivera—have settled with the Attorney General’s Office.
The four agreed to pay $169,000 in civil penalties, attorneys fees, costs and restitution, including $24,000 in restitution to 15 victims who came forward.
Lockyer wants an order barring Balladares and the company from engaging in false advertising and the unlicensed practice of law.
The settlement bars IWWS owner Jose Mejia from engaging in immigration consultation through Dec. 22, 2005, and requires him to notify the Attorney General’s Office should he resume that line of work.
Members of Mejia’s firm agreed to pay $26,000 in civil penalties, attorney’s fees, costs and restitution to victims.
In addition, the more than 5,500 people who used Mejia’s business will be notified of the opportunity to retrieve their files, and Mejia is ordered to provide them a list of free or low-cost immigration service providers. He also must place a notice in La Opinion for five days, notifying the Spanish-language newspaper’s readers of the date of the close of his business.
“These businesses were ripping off the immigrant community by falsely portraying themselves as law offices, engaging in deceptive advertising and promising various immigration services they could not legally provide,” Lockyer’s statement said.
“Under these judgments, consumers who lost money and came forward to assist us in the prosecution of these cases will be reimbursed, and all individuals who have done business with the firm we are closing down will be able to retrieve their documents so they can pursue immigration services from bona fide immigration attorneys and community organizations that assist in providing immigration services,” the attorney general added.
In agreeing to the settlement, none of the defendants admits wrongdoing.
Attorney Alexis Torres was named as a defendant in both cases. Torres and another attorney, Wesley Sklark, and five non-attorneys—Claudia Garcia, Claudia Arreola, Leticia Gutierrez, Maria Teresa Salazar and Jose Salazar—will pay $26,000 in civil penalties, attorney’s fees and costs and restitution relating to their work for Immigration World Wide Services.
About $7,800 of that amount will be paid to nine victims who assisted in the case.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company