SEATTLE — In the latest action in a crackdown on illegal assistance to immigrants, Attorney General Bob Ferguson today announced a lawsuit against an Everett man accused of advertising immigration law services, when he is not an attorney or accredited to provide such services.
Michael Bendzar published at least 73 advertisements in Russian-language publications since December 2013 advertising “immigration services” through his business, Michael’s Office.
The lawsuit alleges that Bendzar’s representations violate the Washington Immigration Services Fraud Prevention Act (ISFPA) and the Consumer Protection Act because he is not an attorney or an accredited immigration representative.
Bendzar is accused of 73 violations of the Consumer Protection Act, and the state is seeking civil penalties and an injunction preventing Bendzar from advertising immigration services. The state is permitted to seek up to $2,000 in civil penalties for each violation.
“My office will not tolerate scammers who prey on Washington residents working hard to follow complex immigration laws,” Ferguson said. “This type of fraud can have serious consequences for victims, and we are cracking down on perpetrators.”
The ads refer to Bendzar as a “notarius,” the Russian word for “notary.” In many Russian-speaking countries, however, a notarius is an attorney or a person with other advanced legal training. In the United States, a notary is a person authorized to administer an oath or witness the signing of papers, not someone qualified to provide legal assistance.
A similar linguistic accident is often taken advantage of by scammers targeting Spanish-speaking communities, where they advertise as “notarios” or “notarios públicos.” Other communities, including North and West African, Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese and Ukrainian immigrants, have also been targeted.
The unauthorized advertisement or provision of immigration services is illegal under ISFPA. The law protects consumers from unauthorized entities that peddle assistance completing immigration forms and navigating immigration processes, services that legally can only be provided by attorneys and accredited representatives. The ISFPA was signed into law in 2011 at the request of the Attorney General’s Office.
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.
Getting the right help
If you are working with an immigration assistant, check his or her credentials. 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.
- If a person claims to be a lawyer, ask to see his or her bar license. A real lawyer would 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 a 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.
Resources to help consumers obtain qualified immigration assistance include:
- American Immigration Lawyers Association – Washington Chapter: www.ailawa.org
- Search for an immigration attorney, by city and state, at AILA’s immigration lawyer search page: www.ailalawyer.com
- Latino Bar Association of Washington (LBAW): www.lbaw.org
- Washington State Bar Association: www.wsba.org
- The Northwest Immigrant Rights Project provides legal services to immigrants and refugees and offers workshops for those who want to know if they are qualified to petition for their family members to get legal status in the U.S. Information is available online at www.nwirp.org. Western Washington residents may call 800-445-5771 or 206-587-4009. In Eastern or Central Washington, call 888-756-3641. Calls are answered on weekdays; ask for the Citizenship Unit.
- Your county bar association
Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, a non-profit providing legal assistance to people from more than 150 countries, was awarded a $125,000 cy pres grant from the Attorney General’s Office in April.
The grant funds fraud prevention, outreach and enforcement, including combating this type of “notario” scam. The organization will educate consumers through community presentations and a variety of advertising efforts, as well as hire an attorney to provide legal assistance and pursue litigation where needed.
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