- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 19, 2015

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced Wednesday that he has taken action against four companies accused of offering fraudulent legal services to immigrants.

Ferguson, speaking at a press conference in Seattle, said his office has stepped up enforcement against the companies and owners of companies in Lakewood, Tacoma and Everett. He said that unlicensed immigration consultants who refer to themselves as “notarios” or “notarios publicos” are misrepresenting themselves to consumers as having advanced legal training. Victims face losing their immigration status if a deadline is missed or paperwork is filled out incorrectly, he noted.

“The consequences for fraud can hardly be more significant than that,” Ferguson said.

A measure signed into law in 2011 in Washington state made it illegal for unauthorized consultants to work on immigration processes that can only be provided by attorneys or other qualified representatives.

Ferguson’s office has taken the following action:

- A $235,000 lawsuit against EC New Horizons and EC Horizons and their owners Edwin Cruz and Maurice Terry of Lakewood. Ferguson said that they have violated an earlier 2011 agreement with the attorney general’s office to stop providing unauthorized legal advice. Since then, Ferguson’s office says they have ignored the order and provided legal services to more than 400 people. The $235,000 action includes about $150,000 in restitution for victims. When reached by phone Wednesday, Cruz refused to comment, but said that his business was closed.

-Imposing $16,995 in penalties and fees against Rosi Immigration Services in Tacoma. Ferguson said that the business has closed.

- Imposing $8,000 in civil penalties and $1,500 in costs and fees against Servicio en Espanol LLC in Everett and enjoining them from further illegal conduct.

- Assessing $8,000 in civil penalties and $1,500 in costs and fees against Orona & Associates also in Everett and enjoining them from further illegal conduct.

Messages left with Servicio en Espanol and Orona & Associates on Wednesday were not returned.

Ferguson said that there were ongoing investigations into other companies around the state, but said he could not give details at this point. He also announced a $125,000 grant to the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project to help deal with unauthorized practice of immigration law.

Executive director of the group, Jorge Baron, said that it’s difficult to determine how many people might be affected by immigration services fraud, because oftentimes victims are too afraid to alert authorities if they’ve been scammed.

“They may get a deportation order and not seek help,” he said.

Ferguson and Baron said that consumers seeking immigration help should always ask to see the person’s bar license, and should use online resources to check and see if the group or organization is authorized to practice law or authorized under federal law to provide immigration services.

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