Friday, November 7, 2003

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Attorney General Greg Abbott Shuts Down North Texas Scam Targeting Immigrants And Employers

DALLAS - Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott today announced that he has obtained a temporary injunction against a North Texas woman, prohibiting her from assuming the identity of a federal officer and falsely promising benefits to immigrant clients.

The court action also prohibits Maria Elena Garza of Kemp, Texas from representing to immigrants' employers that she is a federal officer authorized to process applications for immigration benefits.

Garza is not legally authorized to provide such services and is not affiliated with any government agency. The Attorney General said she presented forged letters and documents that appeared to have been issued by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.

(Sample fraudulent documents, Receipt given by defendant to a victim)

She assessed processing fees and imposed fines - sometimes in excess of $1,000 per client - and required clients to pay these amounts before documents could be processed. Garza allegedly pocketed the proceeds and never filed any documents with the INS.

"We are making significant progress in our attacks on widespread schemes that for too long have plagued immigrants, their families and employers throughout Texas," said Attorney General Abbott. "Hardworking families and business people who hire immigrants around the state have lost thousands of dollars, and the victims have seen their hopes for reaching the American dream dashed."

Earlier this year, Attorney General Abbott launched a statewide crackdown against unscrupulous individuals like Garza, who prey on immigrants through false promises of obtaining visas and other benefits on their behalf.

Victims are conned by people who portray themselves as authorities in processing immigration applications. In reality, the services are of little or no benefit to victims of these scams. "Those clients with legitimate standing to apply for benefits could see their cases jeopardized by people like Garza who take the money without ever performing a real service," said Attorney General Abbott.

The Attorney General coordinated his investigation of Garza with local and federal authorities, who brought the defendant into custody last month. She has been criminally charged by federal authorities with mail fraud in connection with the fraudulent immigration services she provided.

Garza solicited clients through a concession stand she operated at Seven Points Bingo Hall in Seven Points, Texas. Up until recently, she told her victims she worked for what is now called the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services in Corsicana. However, there are no federal immigration offices in that city. Garza also lured victims through their employers, who unwittingly referred immigrant workers to her under the impression that she would be able to legitimately process their immigration documents.

The Tool Police Department was instrumental in presenting the Attorney General's office with information from area consumers and employers who believed they were defrauded by Garza. The investigation by local authorities led to the discovery of the fraudulent documents Garza used to mislead her victims and which were the basis for the Attorney General's action against her.

Attorney General Abbott also has frozen Garza's bank accounts. The investigation into her activities continues, including the identification of additional assets.

Victims who were defrauded by Garza can file a report through the Attorney General's bilingual hotline at 1-800-252-8011.

Before contracting someone to process immigration documents, consumers should contact the Texas State Bar at 1-800-932-1900 to confirm that the person is a licensed attorney in good standing. They may also contact the nearest offices of the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services to obtain a list of lawyers and nonprofit organizations in their area authorized to file documents and represent clients during immigration proceedings.

View State’s lawsuit against Maria Elena Garza.