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N.Y. sues companies over Haiti quake victim fraud

By Jessica Naziri, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Companies accused of targeting Haitian community with fraudulent immigration services
  • Companies' owners are not lawyers but provided legal advice, Cuomo says
  • Victims paid thousands for services that could be obtained for small fees, office says
  • Lawsuits seek to shut down companies and obtain restitution for victims

New York (CNN) -- New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced Monday lawsuits to permanently shut down three Brooklyn-based companies that targeted Haitian communities with fraudulent immigration services.

The companies and their owners, who are not lawyers, are accused of illegally providing legal advice and services to Haitian immigrants, charging them thousands of dollars to process immigration applications that could be filed for a nominal fee or free through a waiver.

Further, as non-lawyers, the owners are prohibited from providing legal advice or representing anyone before immigration authorities, according a press release from Cuomo's office. The lawsuits also seek to compensate the victims.

"In light of the recent devastating earthquake in Port-au-Prince, New York's Haitian residents have sadly been a target for immigration scams, bringing further pain to a community that has already suffered so much," Cuomo said in a statement.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security allowed all Haitians residing in the United States as of January 12, when the powerful earthquake struck the island nation, to stay in the country for 18 months to seek Temporary Protected Status. After that announcement, the attorney general's office received complaints that Haitian immigrants were targeted by companies offering fraudulent and illegal immigration services at high prices.

"These cases are a part of the Attorney General's ongoing crackdown on immigration scams throughout New York," Cuomo wrote in the statement. "I urge anyone who has been affected by this type of fraud to contact my office."

The lawsuits were filed against Chay Pa Lou Community Center Inc., Delegue Tax Consultant Inc. and their owner and operator, Jean Michel; and Rincher's Multi-Service, also known as Rincher Bookstore, Rincher Associates and Haitian American Entrepreneur's Group LLC, and its owners and operators, Deslande Seixas-Rincher and Sharlene Seixas-Rincher.

According to Cuomo's statement, Michel's companies face liability for more than 100 known violations; the companies owned and operated by the Seixas-Rinchers face liability for more than 30 known violations. In addition, Cuomo's office has obtained a court order against Chay Pa Lou Community Center Inc., freezing its assets and precluding it from destroying documents and transferring assets.

Calls to the three Brooklyn-based companies for comment were not returned.

New York state law requires anyone providing immigration services to comply with advertising, signage and surety requirements, and to give consumers written contracts in both the consumer's native language and English that detail their services and cancellation policy. Furthermore, it is illegal to mislead or defraud any person in immigration-related services.

The Office of the Attorney General said it will coordinate with several New York legal associations to help handle the companies' existing cases and to protect victims.