Minnesota Attorney General's Office
1400 Bremer Tower
445 Minnesota Street
St. Paul, MN 55101
M - F 8 am - 5 pm
Tuesday, May 13, 2014
ATTORNEY GENERAL LORI SWANSON FILES LAWSUIT AGAINST
OUTFITS THAT EXPLOITED IMMIGRANTS BY FALSELY
Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson today filed a lawsuit against a woman and her companies for falsely posing as an attorney and charging immigrants thousands of dollars for legal work on immigration matters that she was not legally authorized to perform.
“This is an example of someone exploiting the complexity and cost of the legal process to their own advantage and to the detriment of others,” said Attorney General Swanson.
Attorney General Swanson indicated that her office has filed a number of lawsuits in recent years involving companies and individuals that seek to take advantage of people facing a costly and complicated legal system.
The lawsuit was filed in Hennepin County District Court against two companies, American Group US, Inc. and The Legacy Firm Corporation, and Ornella Hammerschmidt, a woman from Shakopee, Minnesota that runs them.
The defendants charged Spanish-speaking immigrants with limited English language proficiency as much as $12,000 for legal work on immigration matters. The legal work included assistance on applications for citizenship, asylum, and other immigration matters. Ms. Hammerschmidt is not an attorney, but she held herself out as one and held her companies out as being capable of providing immigration legal services. The company often gave consumers a business card or other paperwork calling Ms. Hammerschmidt an “International Attorney.”
Among other things, the lawsuit alleges the companies:
- Charged impoverished immigrants thousands of dollars in fees for immigration-related legal services they weren’t legally authorized to perform under state or federal law.
- Held Ms. Hammerschmidt out as an attorney and held themselves out as being qualified and able to provide legal advice on immigration matters.
- Provided legal advice to clients that they did not have the legal authority or expertise to provide, such as advice about the steps the client should pursue in an immigration proceeding.
- Took money from clients for services that were not provided or that were delayed for lengthy periods of time.
- In some cases, falsified signatures on immigration filings or prepared paperwork with wrong information.
Consumers who did business with the companies indicate the following:
- A woman states that she paid the defendants $7,000 to submit a visa application on her behalf, but the application contained errors, mistakes, and falsified signatures, forcing the woman to withdraw the application through her new lawyer. The woman worries that this will impact her 16 year-old son, who would someday like to join the U.S. Army.
- A consumer states that he paid the defendants $5,800 for help obtaining a work permit. After a series of delays and repeated demands for more money from the defendants, he learned that the work permit had been issued in another person’s name.
- A woman states that she told the defendants that facts in her asylum application were untrue, but the defendants told her to submit the forms anyway. The filing of false forms with the Executive Office for Immigration Review can subject a client to harsh penalties, including potential deportation.
- A woman states that she was ordered to be deported because she missed a court hearing about which the defendants never informed her. The order is now being appealed by her new attorneys.
The lawsuit alleges violations of the state’s immigration services law, unauthorized practice of law statute, and consumer protection laws. It seeks an injunction to prevent further harm and restitution for consumers, among other remedies.
The Attorney General’s Office advises consumers in need of legal help on immigration matters to make sure the person hired is authorized to provide legal advice. Under federal law, only an attorney or an accredited representative working for a Board of Immigration Appeals-recognized organization may provide legal advice on immigration matters. More information about immigration assistance scams and the steps to follow to prevent being scammed is available at www.uscis.gov.
People may report complaints to the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office by calling (651) 296-3353 or (800) 657-3787. People may also download a Complaint Form from the Attorney General’s Office website at www.ag.state.mn.us and mail the completed form to the Attorney General’s Office at: 1400 Bremer Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 2131.