The state's attorney general filed criminal charges against a man accused of posing as an immigration attorney and defrauding clients in the Los Angeles area.
Oswaldo Rafael Cabrera, the owner and operator of Coalicion Latinoamericana Internacional (CLI), was arrested and now faces 22 counts of grand theft, attempted grand theft, attempted perjury, and conspiracy, the state's attorney general Kamala Harris announced Wednesday.
"Mr. Cabrera's deception cost dozens of immigrants their hard-earned savings and tore families apart," Harris said in a news release. "Scam artists who exploit immigrants trying to navigate a complex system must be held accountable."
Cabrera charged clients up to $9,000 for legal consultations and services, the attorney general's office alleged. He is accused of misleading clients about the status of their cases, misinforming them about their eligibility of immigration relief and completing immigration forms improperly. He is also accused of ignoring and lying to clients to avoid refunds -- in some instances, his alleged mishandling of cases led to the deportation of clients' family members.
Cabrera's services were advertised widely on his website and through commercials that aired through mainstream and Spanish-language media.
"This individual promised that he was going to be able to deliver -- whether it was getting somebody out of immigration detention or helping somebody obtain permanent residency," said immigration attorney Nelson Castillo. "He's not an authorized practitioner of law; he's not an attorney or an accredited representative. Yet he's been giving legal advice."
Immigration attorneys believe Cabrera is part of a new crime wave that was created in part of immigrants' fears over President-elect Donald Trump's plans over undocumented immigrants and deportation. This has made many, including Nohemy Hernandez, nervous about their status and therefore vulnerable to rip-offs promising legal protection.
Hernandez has temporary protected status and has worked in the U.S. for many years. She paid approximately $1,000 to Cabrera for legal advice to obtain permanent residency, but all she got was "lip service," Castillo said. Hernandez's sister paid Cabrera $1,500 for a different proceeding.
Cabrera's wife, Maria Marcelina Rodas, is also facing charges for allegedly conspiring with her husband to violate the Immigration Consultants Act. If convicted, Cabrera faces more than 13 years in state prison.
Anyone who has received immigration assistance from Cabrera or CLI and believes they may be a victim is encouraged to contact the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer and Business Affairs immediately by calling 323-881-7099.