Tuesday, April 5, 2005
Attorney General Abbott Halts Three Fraudulent East Texas Immigration Consulting OperationsAUSTIN – Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott today announced he has halted three fraudulent East Texas immigration consulting businesses that for years swindled hundreds of primarily Hispanic consumers out of thousands of dollars. Abbott secured temporary restraining orders against the operations, which deceived clients in Smith, Gregg and Van Zandt counties.
Samuel and Nilsa Avila allegedly charged Hispanic consumers for unauthorized immigration services for almost 10 years through their Tyler business, which operated under the name Mundo Latino. In the second case, defendants Josue Avila and Robert Kolk called themselves “social processing agents,” advertised their Kilgore-based services on Spanish-language radio and dispensed legal advice through a regular newsletter they published. In Ben Wheeler, Neal Nevejans provided unauthorized services while falsely representing himself as a qualified “immigration paralegal.”
“These cases demonstrate, once again, that immigration-consulting fraud against people who want to call Texas home is frustratingly pervasive,” Attorney General Abbott said. “Consumers need to know whether their immigration consultant is legitimate, and we will not stop until we rid East Texas and the rest of the Lone Star State of these immigration scam artists.”
Since assuming office in December 2002, Attorney General Abbott has stopped 24 businesses from providing unauthorized legal advice on immigration matters.
The latest lawsuits, filed under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, accused all the defendants of misrepresenting to consumers that they were qualified to provide immigration-related services such as dispensing advice and counseling about U.S. immigration law and preparing immigration documents. None of the accused is an attorney or accredited by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), as required by law.
Samuel and Nilsa Avila had been providing fraudulent services through their Mundo Latino business since approximately 1996. Samuel Avila represented himself as either an attorney or an immigration specialist, and a sign outside their office advertised “immigration service.”
One Tyler man went to Avila for immigration help for his parents in 2004, thinking Avila was qualified.
“Mr. Avila has a big immigration sign out front and he told me he had authority to do immigration work for people,” said the man, adding his wife had paid Avila $1,000 for immigration help years earlier.
After realizing that Avila’s operation was fraudulent, the man refused to work with Avila, and his wife unsuccessfully sought a refund of the $1,000.
“Neither my wife nor I would have hired Mr. Avila if we had known he was not authorized to do immigration work,” he said.
A hearing in the case against the Avilas is set for April 11 in the 7th District Court in Smith County.
According to the suit against Nevejans, he at one time worked for the Hispanic American Association of East Texas, a BIA-accredited agency, but he had no authority to continue providing immigration services after he was fired from the association. Nevertheless, he set up his own business, called Immigration Services, and illegally continued operating for about five years from his home, displaying his various defunct immigration credentials on his walls. A hearing in the case is set for April 15 in the 294th District Court in Van Zandt County.
Josue Avila and Robert Kolk falsely advertised their business, Status Social Services, on Spanish-language radio as a nonprofit organization. They also represented themselves as “social processing agents” on business cards, giving the false impression they were qualified to provide immigration services. A hearing in the Gregg County case is scheduled for April 8 in the 124th District Court.
Immigrants who are victimized by unauthorized providers not only lose substantial sums, but could be jeopardizing their ability to obtain immigration benefits for which they might otherwise be eligible.
Consumers who believe they have been the victims of a scam should report it to the Office of the Attorney General at 1-800-252-8011.