A woman from New Jersey pretended to run an immigration firm just to scam money out of immigrants. Read more on how she set up her operation and how you can avoid being scammed.
ELIZABETH, N.J. -When I first read this story, my whole body sunk.
If you ever read about someone’s experience about trying to immigrate to the United States or maybe you’ve been through it yourself, you know how incredibly stressful the journey can be.
This woman took advantage of very vulnerable people and instead of helping them, she decided to line her pockets.
For the past six years Maritza Chavez advertised herself as an immigration attorney with a company called Worldwide Foundation to Rescue the Immigrant. It was all fake. Fake company. Fake immigration attorney. Fake, fake, fake!
Chavez submitted citizenship applications that were incomplete, not filled out correctly, or she would submit the paperwork without payment for the fees. She knew the paperwork would eventually be rejected. That meant the paperwork would come back, along with a hefty refund of the money submitted. Instead of returning the money back to the clients, she pocketed the funds.
But wait. What would she tell the clients?
Chavez would lie about the status of their applications, not telling them they had been rejected. These people had no idea what was happening. She scammed more than 20 immigrants.
Thankfully in September 2011, three of her “clients” realized something was wrong. They hired another lawyer which led to a five-month investigation. Chavez was finally arrested in February 2012 and faces 26 third-degree counts of theft by deception.
As part of the plea-agreement, she faces 10 years in prison and has to pay $104,000 in restitution. She will be sentenced on March 14.
How to Find an Experienced Immigration Attorney
This goes to show if you plan to immigrate, it’s SO important to do your research. We’re talking about your life, everything you worked for. You just can’t sit back and trust someone to do the job right. YOU have to be actively engaged in your own immigration process. Do the research, learn what exact paperwork needs to be filed, educate yourself about the entire process. That way you can make sure everything is being done correctly.
Here are some quick tips on finding a qualified immigration attorney:
1. Ask and get references: Ask around–family, friends, folks at your international office on campus, professors, and university administrators. You may be surprised by the network these people have. When it comes to attorneys, people are VERY quick to recommend and even MORE quick to share when they had a bad experience.
2. Look at different organizations: One example is the American Immigrants Lawyers Association (AILA). This is a group of attorneys and lawyers who practice and teach immigration law. Just because a lawyer is a member of this group doesn’t mean it’s a guarantee he/she is super-amazing, however, being a member shows some level of commitment to practicing law.
I would also recommend subscribing to the ILW.COM newsletter. You will receive an email each day Monday-Friday with articles related to immigration. This is another great way to keep up-to-date with immigration news.
3. Do Interviews: Once you have a list of potential lawyers, give them a call. Call as many as you can. Most lawyers have consultation fees, but see what information you can get over the phone without having to pay. If it sounds good, then take the next step to pay for a consultation.
All situations are different, so make sure you find someone who has experience with your type of case. For example, if you’ve been arrested before you’ll need an attorney who understands not only immigration law, but also criminal immigration law.
What questions you should ask:
A. Have you worked on cases similar to mine? This is important so you know the attorney has experience that will benefit your case.
B. What are my chances for a positive outcome? This is incredibly important to ask.
I will say it again with great emphasis: THIS IS INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT TO ASK.
You should do research beforehand so you know if the attorney will be telling you the truth or he/she is trying to take advantage of your situation by saying, “Oh yes! Not a problem” just so he/she can get your money, even though they are fully aware the success of the case is not favorable.
I would recommend this question being a major determining factor in choosing an attorney. A decent attorney will tell you up front that nothing is guaranteed, however, they’ve had similar cases with positive outcomes. A good attorney will tell you he/she can’t help you, but will refer you to someone who may be able to help.
Unfortunately when it comes to immigration, nothing is guaranteed. So don’t have an attorney tell you otherwise.
C. How long will it take to get a result? This will give you an idea of when you should expect to hear updates from the attorney. Keep in mind since we’re dealing with the government, things do get delayed. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to follow up with the attorney. This is why you’re paying him/her.
D. Who will be working on my case? The law firm may have the attorney’s name, but it doesn’t mean he/she will be working on your case.
E. What are methods of payment? You need to get an idea of how much the entire process will cost. Not only do you have to pay the immigration attorney, but you will need to pay the fees associated with the attorney filing the paperwork for you. This is where your research comes in handy so you can get a rough estimate on how much the total cost will be. See what different payment options for the attorney is available and if credit cards are accepted.
4. Check the State Bar: All lawyers and attorneys have to be approved by the state bar to practice law. You can call the bar in your state to check the status of any attorney or lawyer.
If one of Chavez’s “clients” did any one of these steps, it would have been very apparent she was a fraud. My guess is that these people were too scared to do anything. Here’s someone who promised them citizenship, they trusted her. And even if they did become suspicious, they were probably too scared to do anything thinking they would get into more trouble since they were residing illegally in the country. Kudos to the three “clients” who prompted the investigation.
Shame on Chavez.
Editor in Chief