A San Antonio-based immigration attorney is out of a career and owes $750,000 after filing bogus asylum petitions often generated by aggressive sales tactics.
Former attorney Paul A. Esquivel, Juan Carlos Penaflor and business manager Olvia Martinez stood accused of violating the Deceptive Trade Practices Act in September 2015 after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton found their clients to be duped into filing false petitions for asylum. The firm utilized bait-and-switch tactics and aggressive cold calls to lure applicants–often without the clients’ full understanding in question. A civil judgment and permanent injunction filed in late June assessed a $750,000 penalty on the now-disbarred Esquivel with additional consequences for his former associates, according to court documents obtained by Breitbart Texas.
The Esquivel firm developed an “asylum program” which charged applicants “thousands of dollars” in legal fees to help individuals already resident in the United States obtain recognized legal status, regardless of whether the clients knew specifically what they were applying for. The original civil complaint outlined a variety of scenarios in which Esquivel and company took advantage of clients. In one case, the firm serviced two legally-present Mexican nationals with documents the couple believed to be applications for work permits, yet were asylum petitions complete with falsified violent histories. Composed in English, the couple could not comprehend the files and did not realize what had happened until notices to appear for asylum interviews arrived in the mail.
In a separate matter, the wife of a U.S. citizen contacted the firm to review procedures for obtaining legal status and was told that asylum was the only option available. Unable to read English, she signed an application stating that her family would be in danger of “being targeted by a drug cartel” if they returned to Mexico.
The complaint added that “many” of the firm’s asylum clients never qualified for such protection and “were automatically placed into removal proceedings with no chance of ever being able to seek legal entry into the United States” again.
Esquivel gathered new clients with a “pink slip” system of collecting contact information of acquaintances and relatives to the existing client base, according to the complaint. Information would later be given to in-house telemarketers with scripted sales pitches that did not disclose the risks involved with applying for asylum as required by law.
Federal law requires that aliens physically present in the United States may apply for asylum if they can demonstrate previous or future persecution based on race, nationality, political leanings, religion and other protected class designations. Prospective applicants must come forward within their first year of arrival. Providing false information in the process can lead to civil and criminal penalties, even permanent ineligibility for citizenship. When being assisted by an immigration attorney, clients must be apprised of these requirements in their own language. The complaint noted that one employee knowingly enrolled a new client in the “asylum program” despite their legal ineligibility simply because “they came in”.
In August 2015, Esquivel resigned from the State Bar of Texas “in lieu of discipline” after multiple suspensions had been leveled in decades past. Around that time, Texas’ complaint notes that he sold his practice to non-lawyer Olvia Martinez, contrary to well-established law. The firm was subsequently split and rebranded to “JCP Law Firm & Associates PLLC” and “JCP Law Office, PC” with Juan Carlos Penaflor as the face of the outfits. Despite Penaflor’s alleged claims of ownership, Martinez’s filings before the Texas Secretary of State document her to be the sole CEO, Manager, Director and buyer of the firms with singular signatory powers over their bank accounts. The non-attorney owned and operated firms notified asylum clients in writing that their cases could continue normally with JCP. General Paxton notes that at no time during the firms’ transition did Esquivel notify his clients of his decision to quit the practice of law.
Texas accused Esquivel and company of violating the state Deceptive Trade Practices Act for multiple misrepresentations before and after Esquivel’s disbarment. Martinez was specifically accused of violating the Texas Business Organizations Code for owning a law firm despite her not being a lawyer. The Agreed Final Judgment and Permanent Injunction secured last week not only fines Esquivel $750,000 and bans him from further immigration law work of any kind, but requires Penaflor to supply all former asylum clients with their case files free of charge and provide pro bono assistance to rescind all pending applications. All clients in contact with the firms on or after June 1, 2015 are due full refunds. Martinez may not own a law firm anywhere in the United States unless she is admitted to the appropriate state bar in question.
Esquivel originally operated offices in San Antonio, Austin and Dallas. Penaflor’s practice continues in north Texas, according to the State Bar.
Breitbart Texas’ review of the trio’s political contributions found only one report belonging to Esquivel. In May and June of 2008, he donated a total of $500 to the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC).
The State of Texas originally filed its civil suit in the 37th Judicial District of Bexar County. A selection of topical documents has been provided below.
Logan Churchwell is a founding member of the Breitbart Texas team. You can follow him on Twitter @LCChurchwell.
Esquivel Original Petition and Application for Temporary and Permanent Injunctions
Esquivel Final Judgment and Permanent Injunction
NRCC May 2008 FEC Schedule A (Esquivel)
NRCC June 2008 FEC Schedule A (Esquivel)