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Resolution aims to shed light on notario fraud

City Council members want hearings held on people scamming immigrant communities.

CITY COUNCILMAN Dennis O'Brien and Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez yesterday introduced a resolution in Council seeking to hold hearings on the issue of "notario fraud" and other immigration-consultant fraud.

Their target is people who pose as lawyers or offer legal advice on immigration when they are not accredited to do so. "They charge tens of thousands of dollars," O'Brien said. Their prey? Vulnerable people in immigrant communities who seek benefits such as a green card.

"Often these people [victims] are on a legal path to citizenship. But if the papers are filed incorrectly or not filed at all, then you're out of here," O'Brien said, meaning they could be deported.

The term "notario fraud" refers to people who advertise as notarios publicos and misrepresent themselves as being lawyers when they are not. In Latin American countries, a notario publico is an actual lawyer. But in the United States, a notary public is someone authorized only to witness the signing of documents. Because of the difference in meanings, the term notario publico creates the "opportunity for deception," the resolution says.

O'Brien says he wants to build awareness in the city's immigrant communities about these potential scams and wants the District Attorney's Office to prosecute such scammers.

The state passed a law in October prohibiting notaries from engaging in false or deceptive advertising.