Los Angeles immigrants looking for help becoming legal citizens were being taken advantage of by a scam artist posing as an immigration lawyer, according to LA City Attorney Mike Feuer.
Feuer filed charges against San Fernando Valley resident Jesus Luna Lozano, 52, saying he's acting as an immigration attorney despite being prevented from practicing law in 2003. It's part of Feuer's crackdown on immigration fraud in the city, the first of its kind since new federal rules on immigration were announced in November, he said.
"The family that has invested all of their savings not only loses the money, but they're gone," Feuer said of Lozano's alleged scheme at a news conference Thursday.
Lozano was investigated after Feuer's office received a complaint that he was still giving legal advice, Feuer's office said. Undercover investigators received legal advice on immigration issues from Lozano twice, Feuer alleges.
The city filed six counts against Lozano and is asking him to appear in court Feb. 27. If convicted, he faces up to five years and six months in prison, a city official said.
Feuer, the California Department of Consumer Affairs and legal aid organizations are working to stop immigration scams ahead of the enactment of President Barack Obama's executive orders on immigration, a Feuer spokesman said.
"This collaboration should send a shiver through those who would perpetrate immigration fraud because the Department of Consumer Affairs is out there conducting these operations," Feuer said.
NBC4 confronted a man with a driver's license that read "Jesus Lorenzo Lozano" in his office on Van Nuys Boulevard. Lozano said his services included translations and filling out immigration paperwork, but denied claiming to be a notary or an attorney.
"He was actually practicing law and giving them legal advice, asking them questions and suggesting what their path might be to obtain legal citizenship," said deputy city attorney Onica Cole.
Nelson Castillo, who is an immigration attorney, said there are many legal ways to get inexpensive or free advice but his duties have increasingly involved fixing problems created by scammers. He thinks job descriptions may be getting lost in translation as well.
"A lot of people believe they're attorneys because they use the term 'notario,' notary -- in Latin America, the word means attorney," Castillo said.
Officials such as Feuer and California Attorney General Kamala Harris warned that with the new regulation comes a new opportunity for con artists to take advantage of "vulnerable consumers seeking help with immigration services," as Harris said in a November statement, soon after the orders were announced.
"We clean up messes every day," Castillo said.