Waltham Man Ordered to Stop Engaging in the Unauthorized Practice of Immigration Law
AG Obtains Preliminary Injunction Prohibiting Defendant from Holding Himself Out as an Immigration Attorney; Massachusetts Residents Inappropriately Charged for Legal Advice
BOSTON – A Waltham man and his company have been ordered by a judge to stop engaging in the unauthorized practice of law and to stop providing services related to immigration matters, Attorney General Martha Coakley announced today.
The complaint, filed in Suffolk Superior Court, alleges that since at least 2004, Gerson Barahona knowingly defrauded hundreds of Massachusetts residents by falsely holding himself out as an attorney specializing in immigration law, unlawfully charged his victims hundreds, or even thousands of dollars for legal advice and services, and purported to represent them in immigration proceedings without authorization or accreditation.
“We allege this defendant engaged in widespread fraudulent conduct and preyed upon vulnerable residents of Massachusetts,” AG Coakley said. “The unauthorized practice of law, particularly when it concerns immigration matters, not only causes significant economic harm, but also places unsuspecting consumers at risk.”
In many circumstances, Barahona allegedly charged fees for services that were of no benefit to his victims, including helping them to apply for programs when he knew or should have known that they were never eligible.
According to the complaint, Barahona is commissioned as a notary public, but he is not a licensed attorney, as he represented to numerous residents, or an “Accredited Representative,” a special designation given by the federal government to a small number of non-lawyers who have knowledge and experience in immigration law and are permitted to represent clients in immigration proceedings.
Today, Suffolk Superior Court Judge Peter M. Lauriat granted a preliminary injunction against Barahona and his company Gerlatin Modeling and Legal Sub-Contractor Co. LLC. Among other things, the court ordered Barahona to cease engaging in the practice of law, serving as an accredited representative, preparing or signing documents to be filed with any court or administrative body, and providing interpreter, translator, preparer, or notary public services in connection with immigration matters.
The unauthorized practice of immigration law is a widespread problem in Massachusetts and throughout the country. AG Coakley urges all Massachusetts residents to consider the following before hiring someone to provide legal advice or representation in connection with immigration matters:
- All attorneys who are licensed to practice law in Massachusetts must be registered with the Board of Bar Overseers. To find out if an individual is licensed to practice law in Massachusetts and is in good standing, you can call the Board of Bar Overseers at 617-728-8800 or visit http://massbbo.org/bbolookup.php;
- The U.S. Departments of Justice and Homeland Security do allow a limited number of non-lawyers to assist individuals in immigration proceedings. These non-lawyers must have special knowledge and experience in immigration law, and must be recognized by the Board of Immigration Appeals. To find out if an individual or organization is recognized by the Board, you can review the Department of Justice’s Accredited Representatives Roster at http://www.justice.gov/eoir/ra/raroster_reps.htm.
- Many people seek help when answering questions on immigration forms or translating documents from or into English. Anyone can provide this kind of limited help. However, people who offer help with form preparation and translation should only charge you a small fee, should not claim to have special knowledge of immigration law and procedure, and should not do anything more than simply translate documents or write your answers on forms.
- In some other countries, the word “notario” means that the individual is an attorney or can perform legal tasks, but that is not true in the United States. Notary publics are not necessarily attorneys, and they are not authorized to provide legal services.
An advisory from the AG’s Office with more information regarding the unauthorized practice of immigration law can be found here.
This matter was handled by Assistant Attorneys General Genevieve C. Nadeau and Kerry C. Tipper, and Paralegal Paola Ozuna of AG Coakley’s Civil Rights Division, with assistance from Christine Junod of AG Coakley’s Investigations Division.