N.Y. immigration groups to close over alleged fraud

Mon Jul 21, 2014 12:20pm EDT

(Reuters) - Two of the largest non-profit immigration service groups in the United States will shut down after being accused of defrauding thousands of clients, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said on Monday.

The International Professional Association will close immediately and the International Immigrants Foundation within two years, Schneiderman said. Their remaining assets of $2.2 million would be used to provide restitution to clients.

Schneiderman's predecessor, now-Governor Andrew Cuomo, filed a lawsuit in 2010 against the groups and Edward Juarez, their president. He claimed they charged exorbitant fees for their services, including securing work permits and residency, and that their workers falsely claimed to be lawyers.

Juarez allegedly used the money to fund a lavish lifestyle and give jobs to his former wife and children.

“Organizations like IIF and IPA prey upon vulnerable individuals who seek a better life in this country," Schneiderman said in a statement.

Samuel Ehrenfeld, who represents the groups and Juarez, did not return a request for comment.

The settlement is the latest setback for Juarez, who for three decades has been a nationally recognized expert on immigration issues. Prior to the 2010 suit, he was a radio host and columnist for the Spanish-language newspaper El Diario.

The IIF and IPA, according to the 2010 lawsuit, advertised their services as being free or inexpensive. But people who signed up had to make monthly payments and pay thousands of dollars in fees for different types of services.

Juarez and his workers then gave clients poor advice, including suggesting that immigrants enter sham marriages to gain citizenship, or failed to file paperwork properly, according to the suit.

The case is Cuomo v. International Immigrants Foundation, New York State Supreme Court, New York County, No. 400143-2010.