Fake immigration lawyers defrauding desperate Haitians, NY AG says

New York Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo sued several companies posing as immigration lawyers and service providers, taking advantage of Haitian immigrants desperate to extend their legal status in the U.S. after the January earthquake that killed almost a quarter-million.

The lawsuit alleges the Brooklyn-based companies and their owners, who are not lawyers, provided legal advice, immigration and representation services without being authorized. In addition, the complaint states, they demanded exorbitant fees -- as high as $1,300 -- for processing applications that could be submitted for free. The allegedly phony lawyers also took on cases even when their clients were not eligible to stay in the U.S., and charged them even when no processing or legal help were provided.
Chay Pa Lou Community Center, Inc. and Delegue Tax Consultant, both owned and operated by Jean Michel, as well as Rincher's Multi-Service, also known as Rincher Bookstore, Rincher Associates, and Haitian American Entrepreneur's Group, LLC, and its owners Deslande and Sharlene Seixas-Rincher, are named as defendants.

Cuomo's office launched its investigation after receiving complaints that Haitians were being targeted by companies offering to file immigration applications at inflated prices. The offers were tied to a special immigration benefit called Temporary Protected Status, established in response to the natural disaster in Haiti. It would allow eligible expatriates to remain and work in the U.S. legally for at least 18 more months.

"In light of the recent devastating earthquake in Port-au-Prince, New York's Haitian residents have sadly been a target for immigration scams, bringing further pain to a community that has already suffered so much," said Cuomo in a public statement.

The state AG says Chay Pa Lou and its owner, Michel -- also charged with mismanagement, waste, and self-dealing -- simply disbanded after a subpoena, renamed itself Delegue Tax Consultant, and kept on defrauding clients. In the following three weeks, Michel personally withdrew $19,000 from the former company's bank account, depleting it of virtually all funds, which the law requires to be used only for authorized charitable purposes.

An employee who answered a call to a phone associated with Chay Pa Lou said there's no such company and that Michel was not available for comment.

The lawsuit is part of an ongoing crackdown on immigration scams by the state AG throughout New York. Recently, another fraudulent immigrant aid business in Colorado was similarly charged and penalized.
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