A.G. Schneiderman Seeks Criminal & Civil Contempt Charges Against Phony Lawyer Scamming New York Immigrants

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News from Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 26, 2017

Attorney General’s Press Office / 212-416-8060

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN SEEKS CRIMINAL & CIVIL CONTEMPT CHARGES AGAINST PHONY LAWYER SCAMMING NEW YORK IMMIGRANTS

Vincent Gonzalez, Operating Under “God-Man Society Club Inc” in the Bronx, Allegedly Violated Court Order – Defrauding Immigrants in at Least 527 Court Appearances Since 2010 

AG Seeks Millions in Penalties, Fines, and Restitution, as well as Jail Time for Gonzalez

NEW YORK – Today, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman filed for a criminal and civil contempt order against Vincent Gonzalez, alleging that Gonzalez has violated a 2010 court order and continued to provide legal advice and immigration services to the Latino immigrant community, defrauding immigrants out of legal fees in at least 527 court appearances since 2010. Gonzalez now faces millions in penalties, fines, and restitution, as well as imprisonment for contempt of court.

“It’s unconscionable that a scammer would prey on immigrants in order to make a quick buck – and it’s even more egregious to continue to do so in violation of a court order,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “With fear on the rise in communities across the state, my office won’t hesitate to use all tools at our disposal to bring to justice those who try to defraud New York’s immigrant families.”

In 2010, following an investigation that found that Gonzalez had been providing phony immigration services, the Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau secured a court order and judgment in New York Supreme Court against Gonzalez and his company, Immigration Community Service Corporation, permanently enjoining him from engaging in fraudulent and illegal practices, the businesses of providing immigration services, and the unauthorized practice of law. Gonzalez was also directed to pay two civil penalties of $4,275,000 and $1,845,000 each; $127,635 in restitution and compensatory damages to individuals harmed by his illegal conduct; and the costs of the judicial proceeding.

However, beginning in 2015, the Attorney General’s office received complaints alleging that Mr. Gonzalez once again was representing himself as an immigration attorney, providing immigrants with legal advice without proper legal authorization, and promising to perform other legal services in connection with criminal and immigration cases. According to the complaints, Mr. Gonzalez was operating under the company name “God-Man Society Club Inc.” (“GMSC”), located at 930 Grand Concourse in the Bronx.  

The Civil Rights Bureau initiated an investigation, which found that GMSC’s website (immigrationservices.name) openly offered legal services – boasting “since being established in 2001, we have provided the Bronx and surrounding area with reliable immigration, criminal and civil law services. We offer a high-success rate and we promise to do our job to the best of our ability.”  

As alleged in filings with the court, the Attorney General’s office conducted two undercover operations showing that Gonzalez had continued to provide legal advice and immigration services to individuals in violation of the court’s 2010 order and judgment. Moreover, the Attorney General’s office received information from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services confirming that Gonzalez has filed a Notice of Appearance as Attorney or Representative in at least 527 immigration matters since the 2010 order and judgment.

The court filings further allege that Gonzalez told one victim that he was an attorney who could provide immigration-related services and assist in a pending criminal case. Gonzalez told the victim that he would charge $1,500 as an investigation fee; $5,000 as an initial retainer and another $8,000 to complete the criminal case; and an additional $3,000 for bail if the victim were to be arrested. After paying $650 toward the investigation fee, the victim became skeptical of Gonzalez’s ability to represent him and the reasonableness of the costs, and stopped communicating with Gonzalez.

Despite the court order and judgment, Gonzalez has allegedly continued to represent himself as an immigration attorney and seek payments for immigration services, while failing to make any payments toward the restitution, civil penalty and court costs.

Today, Attorney General Schneiderman filed for a criminal and civil contempt order against Gonzalez in New York County Supreme Court seeking full payment of the prior judgments, plus jail time and a substantial fine be imposed for each day that Gonzalez engaged in contemptuous conduct. Gonzalez faces a maximum incarceration sentence of six months for the civil contempt charges and 30 days for the criminal contempt charges. In addition to paying the millions in judgments already owed, Gonzalez also faces up to a $1,000 fine per day for each day he’s judged to be in criminal contempt, and a maximum fine of the Attorney General’s costs and expenses plus $250 if he’s found to be in civil contempt.

The charges are merely accusations and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.

If you feel you have been a victim of this type of crime, please contact the Attorney General’s Immigration Services Fraud Unit Hotline at (866) 390-2992 or email Civil.Rights@ag.ny.gov. The Attorney General’s office will never ask for your immigration status or share immigration information with federal authorities if you contact the hotline.

Attorneys must be licensed in the State of New York by the New York State Unified Court System, Office of Court Administration. If possible, before meeting or retaining an attorney, consumers should confirm his or her license on the OCA website: iapps.courts.state.ny.us/attorney/AttorneySearch.

Attorney General Schneiderman also reminds immigrant communities of the New York resources available to those seeking immigration and naturalization-related support. Managed by Catholic Charities Community Services, the New Americans hotline is a toll-free, multi-lingual hotline that provides live assistance in receiving immigration and naturalization information and referrals, regardless of citizenship or documented status. All calls to the hotline are confidential and anonymous. Call 1-800-566-7636 (toll-free) anytime between 9:00am to 8:00pm, Monday through Friday.

Attorney General Schneiderman’s guidance on avoiding immigration scams is available here: https://ag.ny.gov/press-release/ag-schneiderman-issues-urgent-fraud-alert-ice-immigration-scams.

The investigation was handled by Investigators Ismael Hernandez, Elsa Rojas, and Andres Rodriguez, under the supervision of Supervising Investigators Cynthia Kane and Michael Leahy, Deputy Chief Investigator John McManus, and Chief Dominick Zarella. The case is being prosecuted by Deputy Chief Jose Nieves of the Special Investigations and Prosecutions Unit and Assistant Attorney General Nancy Trasande of the Civil Rights Bureau, and under the supervision of Bureau Chief Lourdes Rosado and Chief Deputy Attorney General Alvin Bragg. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Disciplinary Counsel Catherine M. O’Connell provided key assistance in this investigation.

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