February 21, 2003

Compensation for defrauded Mexicans

By Mariana Martinez

Tuesday, February 11 was a day of celebration for Ignacio Valerio and Jaime Venegas, who after three years in court finally got their money back from a lawyer who defrauded them.

Mr. Ignacio Valerio received $14,300 judgment, and Mr. Venegas received $1250. The significant difference in each amount lays on the specifics of each case.

Jaime Venegas, receives his check from the Mexican Consulate. Also present was the lawyer representing him Ms. Strickland.

Both Mexican men went to the same lawyer asking for help with their migratory status.

Jaime Venegas re-tolled his story:

“I got into this mess because this person offered me his help, he said he could get a fast permit for my wife. I thought he would, but every time I went to his office he asked me for a check, he even asked for money by mail; three hundred, two hundred, he kept leading me on…until one day I asked to see some paperwork, anything that immigration had sent me, he said ‘come this date and I will have a copy’ and I went, but his assistant told me he was no longer working on my case.

“What was I suppose to do? It was a lot of money; I worked hard to earn it. That’s when I went to the consulate, to see if they could lend me a hand.

“I found Ms. Strickland (the lawyer put in charge of the case) and she told me she had many cases like mine, and said she was going to fix it.

By that time I was counting my losses.

I thought, because I didn’t have all the paper work this couldn’t be fixed. But in the end, I got my hard earned money back”.

Unfortunately, these two Mexicans experiences, with corrupt lawyers, is very common, not just in border cities like San Diego but all over the United States, in cities with a large immigrant population. This type of con-artist often advertise themselves as “lawyers” (some of them are, some are not) offering counseling and help in straightening out irregular migratory situations, but after asking for huge amounts of money, they don’t do anything results or simply disappear.

Their weapon of choice is fear; fear that the victims might be deported; affecting their migratory situation or that of their loved ones if they make a claim; and for many, their little knowledge of the English language and the US makes it hard for them to come forward.

More to their victim’s dismay, Law is a very specific practice, it has its own language and misleading terms, and people seek a lawyer’s help, often desperate and with no other resource but to trust him.

The Mexican Consulate in San Diego is trying to minimize those fears and with that, the risk for fraud, letting Mexicans know they are not alone in this county. The Consultate lawyer Barbara Strickland tells how “We have cases that have gone to penal courts; four people are in jail as a result of those cases brought forward by the consulate. The most recent of them was just last week, in witch Mr. Tony De Lorenzo was sentenced to a year in jail.A few months ago, we had the Henry Varela case, it is the case where we registered most victims; over a hundred.

“We have some other cases involving, not only lawyers but all so paralegals. It is very important for people to see the consulate as a bridge between the authorities and them; they can approach the Consulate without fear.

“From all the cases that have come forward, no one has been affected in his/her migratory situation, we work in close cooperation with the District Attorney, Immigration services and other agencies that work as hard as us to help people who make a claim”.

Despite the happy ending in this case, every day, more and more Mexicans, and other immigrants are being robbed of their hard earned money by unscrupulous individuals who are taking advantage of these individuals.

This type of abuse is even more common when there are rumors in the street of some “due date” for immigration documentation. In June of this year, the “late amnesty” documentation period is due, and even though it only applies to a limited number of immigrants, it is the perfect opportunity for lawyers to feed the “word on the street” with hopeful stories.

The confusion they create and with the usual fear, get their offices filled with worried people, ready to be more confused by badly used legal terms and anecdotes.

What can be done to prevent it?

The Mexican Consulate offers free legal advice in their downtown office, but we all know that is still not enough, to be safe, some precautions have to be taken:

· Ask to see the lawyer’s credentials.

· Make sure he is a member of the California Lawyers Bar.

· Beware of those working from their home or someone else’s office.

· Ask for references.

· Trust your instincts. If you feel something is wrong, it probably is.

Abusive behavior is hard to fight but the Hispanic population in this county needs to fight back in this type of exploitation; know their rights and relay on their consulate.

Each consulate has an obligation to look out for the well being of his citizens in the United States, and getting their help to get convictions, might be a powerful way to put a stop on this type of crime.

Mexican General Council in San Diego.
1549 India St. San Diego, CA, 92101
(619) 308 99 16.

Note: The name of the convicted lawyer involved in this particular case was not released; the Consulate has remaining cases against him and doesn’t want to compromise the process.

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