Court awards $234K in penalties and restitution
SEATTLE — Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced a Friday court order against EC New Horizons and EC Horizons requiring repeat offenders Edwin Cruz and Maurice Terry to pay $234,000. Cruz and Terry provided unlawful immigration assistance to over 400 Washington victims. The resolution includes $149,000 in money back for victims.
This is part of Ferguson’s continued effort to combat illegal immigration services and crack down on “notario” fraud.
“Those who prey on Washington residents who are working hard to follow complex federal immigration laws will not be tolerated,” Ferguson said. “Immigration services fraud has dire consequences for Washington families, and my office is committed to prosecuting these fraudsters.”
Back in 2011, the Attorney General’s Office sued EC New Horizons and EC Horizons after an investigation revealed that owners Cruz and Terry improperly provided legal advice and represented themselves as immigration consultants. The AGO obtained a court-approved consent decree, prohibiting further violations and imposing $6,000 in costs and fees, plus $37,000 in civil penalties. A large portion of the penalties were suspended, provided Cruz and Terry complied with the consent decree.
That didn’t happen. EC New Horizons preyed upon approximately 400 new victims, providing unlawful immigration “services.”
The AGO filed a motion to enforce the 2011 consent decree to pursue tougher penalties.
On Friday, Pierce County Superior Court’s Judge Vicki Hogan agreed with all of the AGO requests, awarding:
- Approximately $149,000 in restitution for victims.
- Payment of the previously suspended civil penalties of $35,000, plus an additional $25,000 civil penalty each from both Cruz and Terry for violations of the Consent Decree.
- An injunction prohibiting Cruz and Terry from further providing any immigration-related services in any capacity.
- Attorney costs and fees.
Immigration services fraud
Immigration services, or “notario,” fraud is illegal under Washington state’s Immigration Services Fraud Prevention Act (ISFPA). Signed into law in 2011 at the request of the Attorney General’s Office, the law protects consumers from unauthorized entities that peddle assistance completing immigration forms and navigating immigration processes that legally can only be provided by qualified attorneys and accredited representatives.
These unlicensed immigration “consultants” are often notaries public who prey on immigrant clients by referring to themselves as “notarios” or “notarios públicos,” terms that refer to attorneys or individuals with advanced legal training in Latin American countries.
The ISFPA specifically prohibits the use in advertising of these and any other deceptive terms that imply professional legal skills in the area of immigration law.
While immigration services fraud is prevalent in many Latino communities, it also affects other immigrant communities such as North and West African, Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, Russian and Ukrainian communities.
Immigration services fraud places the legal status of unsuspecting immigrant consumers in jeopardy, risking their ability to live and work in the U.S. — and takes their hard-earned money in exchange for dubious services. In the worst cases, consumers who have been assured they qualify for lawful permanent residency have instead ended up in deportation proceedings.
Preventing immigration services fraud
AG Ferguson urges immigrant consumers to exercise care when hiring someone to help with an immigration matter. Always check credentials and make sure anyone who submits an immigration petition on your behalf is authorized to provide immigration-related services before you pay any money or turn over personal information.
Here are some more tips:
- If a person claims to be a lawyer, ask to see his or her bar license. A real lawyer will not be offended by this request.
- Conduct a “lawyer search” on the Washington State Bar Association’s website at www.wsba.org to see if the person is licensed to practice law in Washington.
- If a person is licensed to practice law in another state, make sure to check that state’s registry of licensed attorneys.
- To check if a person or organization is authorized under federal law to provide immigration services, search www.justice.gov/eoir/ra/raroster.htm.
There are a number of resources to help consumers find qualified immigration assistance:
- American Association of Immigration Lawyers-Washington Chapter: www.ailawa.org.
- Northwest Immigrant Rights Project: www.nwirp.org.
- Latino Bar Association of Washington: www.lbaw.org.
- Washington State Bar Association: www.wsba.org.
- Authorized nonprofit providers are listed at www.immigrationadvocates.org/nonprofit/legaldirectory/
- Your county bar association.
File a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office
Unfortunately, immigration services fraud is often not reported because victims are afraid to come forward.
Washington’s consumer protection laws protect everyone who lives in our state. The Attorney General’s Office is here to help all consumers.
Our office is not part of the federal government and will not turn over information to immigration authorities.
If you believe you have been a victim of immigration services fraud, file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office online at www.atg.wa.gov.
We can take calls in multiple languages.
The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Attorney General Bob Ferguson is working hard to protect consumers and seniors against fraud, keep our communities safe, protect our environment and stand up for our veterans. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Peter Lavallee, Communications Director, (360) 586-0725; PeterL@atg.wa.gov