City Attorney Mike Feuer announced misdemeanor charges Thursday against a well-known Los Angeles-area immigration activist, alleging she gave legal advice without a license through her consulting business.
City attorneys earlier this month charged Gloria Dora Saucedo, the 65- year-old owner of Hermandad Mexicana Transnacional at 7915 Van Nuys Blvd. in Panorama City, with three misdemeanor counts of violating the Immigration Consultants Act by failing to post a sign stating the consultant is not an attorney, and two counts of giving legal advice without a license. If convicted, Saucedo faces up to five years in jail and $32,000 in fines, according to Feuer's office.
Her business associates, Carmen Onchi, 27, and Maria Chavez, 33, were each charged with misdemeanor unlicensed practice of law, which carries penalties of up to a year in jail and $1,000 in fines.
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The charges stem from complaints by two clients who said they paid Saucedo for services and had their immigration-related applications denied, allegedly after requested documents were not submitted and one client was not informed of a scheduled interview and subsequent notices, according to Feuer's office.
One of the clients lost her residency status and the Social Security benefits she was receiving because her late husband was a citizen were canceled, according to Feuer.
Undercover investigators from the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer and Business Affairs also said they obtained legal advice from Hermandad Mexicana's employees on two occasions. Deputy City Attorney Onica Cole said Hermandad Mexicanas has "some attorneys that come in and do seminars on an ad hoc business, but they don't have people who are supervising the individuals who are involved."
A person identifying himself as her son told City News Service Saucedo had no immediate comment. Martha Ugarte, a fellow activist who said she has worked with Saucedo on many immigration issues, called the charges "minimal" and said Saucedo "hasn't been found guilty of anything."
"Her clients are not unhappy with her work," Ugarte said. "They're making a big deal out of something. ... Instead of looking for real criminals, they're targeting people who are helping the community."
Ugarte added that a news conference held today by Feuer to discuss the charges "caught us off-guard -- we weren't given any heads up about this."
Feuer told reporters the consequences of receiving legal help from unqualified consultants is more serious than just financial, since denial of immigration applications means the client faces deportation.
"Among the most important jobs of our office is to protect the most vulnerable residents of our city, and among our residents who are especially vulnerable are our immigrants, who have come here because they have hopes and dreams for themselves and for their families," Feuer said. "But those hopes often result in scam artists coming out of the woodwork to try to take advantage of people in ways that (cause) tremendous harm to them ... when the notarios who purport to be able to practice law work with people and then their lives are worse, not better, because of it," he said.
Feuer said his office will file motions to try to prevent Saucedo from acting as an immigration consultant until she complies with the Immigration Consultants Act, as well as from practicing law if the consultant is not licensed or authorized.