Two California women were arrested on Thursday in a six-count federal indictment accusing them of, for years, filing fraudulent green card applications on behalf of immigrants, and shattering their hopes with empty promises–and thousands of dollars–by taking advantage of a commonly misunderstood Spanish term.
Claudia Arreola, 35, and her accomplice Leticia Gutierez, 35, ran a fraudulent scam operation misleading their victims by using the title of “notarios” and making their victims believe they could legalize their residency status in the United States, according to the Los Angeles Times. The term “notarios” in Latin America could mean lawyer but in English means notary; a position whose legal powers starkly differ in terms of execution from those carried out by an attorney.
“The two women in this case victimized immigrants for years by giving the false impression that they could fix immigration problems,” said U.S. attorney Andrew Birotte Jr, notes the Times. A federal probe into the criminal duo was launched in 2011 when immigration services notified the Department of Homeland Security about suspicious applications.
The six victims who were involved in the case were allegedly threatened with deportation by Arreola and Gutierez when they sought refunds after they hadn’t received their green cards. Federal prosecutors said that the scammers told victims their “legal” services would cost $7,000 but ultimately charged them $20,000 over the course of their scheme.
The California attorney general had brought a lawsuit upon the women in 2003 for allegedly engaging in providing illegal consulting services to immigrants. The Times notes that the women were let off as part of a settlement agreement in which they promised prosecutors that they would not engage in said said acts again. However, in 2006 their illicit actions resumed and they filed immigration forms to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on behalf of the victims.
Two women are reportedly free on a $25,000 bond each, notes the Times.
Their scams could be responsible for dozens of victims. Possible victims are being told to contact the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer Affairs at (800) 593-8222.