Just because he’s on the campaign trail doesn’t mean New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo isn't keeping his skills as the state's chief legal officer sharp.
The Democratic gubernatorial nominee has brought charges against three Brooklyn-based companies that allegedly defrauded the Haitian community.
The Attorney General’s office late yesterday announced the filing of civil law suits against Chay Pa Lou Community Center, Inc., Delegue Tax Consultant, Inc., and its owner Jean Michel as well as Rincher’s Bookstore, which operated under eight other names owned by Sharlene M. Seixas-Rincher.
The centers all allegedly targeted Haitians with fraudulent immigration services.
After the devastating earthquake struck Haiti on January 12, the United States Government allowed Haitians to seek “Temporary Protected Status.” This allowed those affected to live in the United States for a period of 18 months.
But after this announcement that groups began to emerge targeting the new immigrants with aggressive ads, and slowly the complaints began to pile up at the AG's office, prompting an investigation that would reveal more than just price gouging.
According to the complaints filed AG's, the investigation revealed that these companies charged Haitian immigrants for processing immigration applications -- but these applications could normally be filed for free by getting a waiver or for a small fee.
The companies also charged some immigrants for processing applications even when they were not eligible to stay in the United States. Some even paid for application processing and legal services that were never provided, according to officials.
"This is a problem that is pervasive. The supply of qualified affordable legal services are so low that it creates this condition," said New York Immigration Coalition Executive Director Chung-Wha Hong.
Cuomo seeks to permanently shut down the three companies, preventing them from providing immigration legal services. He is also seeking restitution for victims for services provided that the organizations were not authorized to provide or never provided at all.
The Attorney General can also seek an injunction and penalties of up to $7,500 per violation. In the suit, the companies owned and operated by Jean Michel are liable for over 100 known violations. The companies owned and operated by the Seixas-Rinchers are also on the line to face over 30 known violations.
The Attorney General previously obtained a court order against Chay Pa Lou Community Center, Inc., which has frozen their assets and precludes them from destroying documents and transferring assets.
“These cases are a part of my office’s ongoing crackdown on immigration scams throughout New York and I urge anyone who has been affected by this type of fraud to contact my office,” said Cuomo.
The AG's office has established an Immigration Services Fraud Unit Hotline at (866) 390-2992 or www.ag.ny.gov.
A list of free and low-cost immigration services that are available through not-for-profits and attorneys can be found through the U.S. Department of Justice, the New York State Immigration Hotline, and the Board of Immigration Appeals. Haitians staying in the United States only have until July 20, 2010 to apply for the temporary protected status.