Four businesses including two Paterson shops were found allegedly taking advantage of Spanish-speaking consumers by advertising immigration services through a language confusion to illegally assist immigrants with immigration paperwork, according to the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office.
The two Paterson businesses, Navarro Tax Services and Martinez Travel Agency both of Market Street, agreed to pay $15,000 in penalties for advertising themselves as “Notarios Publicos” to confuse some Spanish-speaking consumers into believing they can act as attorneys, prepare legal documents, and provide legal advice.
In certain South American countries notaries are known as “Notarios Publicos” and have the ability to act as attorneys and prepare legal documents on behalf of clients. In the United States, public notaries cannot legally offer or perform these services, according to authorities.
Under federal law only attorneys or accredited representatives of the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) are able to provide legal advice or complete U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) forms.
“We will not tolerate any business seeking to profit by taking advantage of the immigrant community. We will vigorously enforce our state consumer protection laws to prevent the exploitation of Spanish-speaking consumers and other immigrant populations,” Acting Attorney General Robert Lougy said.
Authorities issued violation notices to the two Paterson businesses late last year. West New York-based Inmigracion Universal Co. and Sunrise, Florida-based International Training Institute were also cited at the same time.
Inmigracion Universal Co. agreed to pay $5,000 in penalty. International Training Institute failed to respond to the violation notice resulting in a default. Authorities said the Florida business has been ordered to pay $10,000 in fines and reimbursement for attorneys’ fees and investigation cost incurred by the state.
Diana Navarro of Navarro Tax Services did not contest the violation. The business paid $5,000 in fine in October 2015, according to state records.
Juan Luis Girao, owner of Martinez Travel Agency, entered into a consent order and agreed to pay $10,000 in fines.
Both Paterson businesses have signed documents to cease advertising themselves as “Notary Public” services in such a way as to mislead consumers into believing they are qualified to prepare and file legal documents with USCIS.
“The Division will continue to vigorously investigate and penalize businesses that perpetrate Notarios Publicos fraud because their victims suffer more than just financial losses,” acting director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs Steve Lee said. Many victims can find themselves in legal trouble or face deportation after depending on the illegal and uninformed advice of a Notario Publico.”
The enforcement actions against Navarro Tax Services, Inmigracion Universal Co., and Martinez Travel Agency resulted from the work of a special task force created by the division last year to investigate and prosecute Notarios Publicos fraud.
Investigators from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the Department of Homeland Security participated in the task force. Investigators Murat Botas, Oscar Mejia, and Luis Zuniga, in the Office of Consumer Protection within the Division of Consumer Affairs, conducted the investigations.
Deputy Attorneys General Alina Wells and Labinot Berlajolli represented the division in the cases against the businesses.
Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of consumer abuse, can file a complaint with the State Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504-6200.