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Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Attorney General Abbott Wins Order Closing Fraudulent West Texas Immigration Consultant

Midland's Aplicacion de Oro swindled hundreds of immigrants and their families

AUSTIN – Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has shut down a large West Texas operation that scammed hundreds of immigrants and their families out of thousands of dollars for unauthorized legal advice and representation in immigration matters.

A state district judge in Midland has issued a summary judgment against Aplicación de Oro and its owners, Marcelino and Hilda Armendariz, for violating the Texas notary public statute and the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act (DTPA). The judge has also issued a temporary injunction barring them from providing further immigration consulting services. A permanent order against the Midland-based business is expected to be issued following a final hearing on February 7, when the Attorney General will ask the judge to order restitution and fines.

Aplicacion de Oro

“For too long, so-called ‘immigration consultants’ have defrauded the public while lining their own pockets. This must stop, and I will continue to vigorously pursue businesses that prey on those simply wanting to call Texas home,” said Attorney General Abbott. “Texas law is very clear about who is authorized to provide legal advice, particularly when navigating complex immigration law. Consumers could face devastating consequences when they place their future in the hands of someone who falsely claims to be an attorney or legal expert.”

Since assuming office, Attorney General Abbott has shut down 12 businesses throughout Texas that are not authorized to provide legal advice regarding immigration matters. In many cases, scam artists simply pocketed the money and did nothing to help their clients.

According to the lawsuit filed on September 8, 2004, Aplicación de Oro maintained a prominent location directly across the street from the Midland County Courthouse, sometimes charging clients thousands of dollars for its illegal services. Aplicación de Oro often provided erroneous legal advice about immigration cases, while doing little or nothing to advance matters before federal officials. Consumers reported the mishandling of cases compromised the immigration status of family members.

In Texas, only licensed attorneys and nonprofit organizations specifically accredited by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) can charge fees to advise and represent clients in immigration matters. While in Texas a notary public is an official witness during the signing of certain documents, in Mexico the term “notario público” is used to address certain highly experienced attorneys. Scam artists in Texas have long exploited this mistranslation to give Spanish-speaking clients the mistaken impression they are dealing with an attorney. Aplicación de Oro’s business cards used the term “notario público,” and the company’s advertisements and letterhead tout the company’s “immigration consultant” services.

Any former or current client of Aplicación de Oro is urged to immediately obtain his or her file and should only consult with an attorney or accredited nonprofit group. Case files are available through the defendants’ attorney, Mr. Frank McCallum, at (432) 682-3288. For additional information, or to file a complaint against a suspected unauthorized operation, consumers can contact the Office of the Attorney General at 1-800-252-8011. Assistance is available in Spanish and English.

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