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Attorney General Lockyer Obtains $1.85 Million Fine, Judgment Against Illegal Immigration Consultants
(LOS ANGELES) – Attorney General Bill Lockyer today announced his office had obtained a $1.85 million court judgment against a husband and wife team who engaged in the unauthorized practice of law and who violated California law regulating immigration consultants. The Attorney General also obtained a judgment permanently barring the illegal immigration consultant business from providing unlawful immigration consulting services in the future.
"This phony immigration consulting firm defrauded hundreds of Chinese immigrants who were seeking asylum and other immigration services," Lockyer said. "With this court order, we have permanently shut down an operation that preys on people by stealing thousands of dollars for services that are never performed and, legally, cannot be by these unqualified individuals."
The judgment, signed earlier this week by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Jon M. Mayeda, requires Walter Wenko, 59, and Miao Huang, 48, owners and operators of Asian Pacific Legal Services, to pay $1.85 million in civil penalties and to provide full restitution to those victims who testified at trial. The court also issued a permanent injunction preventing Wenko and Huang from providing unlawful immigration consulting services in the future.
In the complaint filed in October 2001, the Attorney General's Office alleged that Wenko and Huang's business, Asian Pacific Legal Services, engaged in an illegal enterprise to sell immigration and other legal services, primarily to Chinese-speaking immigrants in the Alhambra and Monterey Park area of Los Angeles County. Although disbarred in March 1998, Wenko advertised Asian Pacific Legal Services as a law office in Chinese newspapers and in the 1999, 2000 and 2001 Chinese Consumer Yellow Pages for Southern California. The company also sought to mislead clients by promising legal advice and services, and guaranteeing favorable results it could not reasonably assure.
At the seven-day trial, which began on Dec. 4, the Attorney General's Office proved that Wenko and Huang duped hundreds of unsuspecting Chinese immigrant clients out of thousands of dollars for questionable legal services. Evidence presented at trial showed the defendants engaged in the unauthorized practice of law, advertised and held their business out as a law office specializing in asylum cases, and failed to comply with the California's Immigration Consultants Act, Business and Professions Code section 22440 et seq.
Evidence at trial further showed that around the time of lawsuit, Asian Pacific Legal Services had approximately 350 clients, each of whom paid between $1,000 and $8,000 for legal services Asian Pacific Legal Services was not authorized to provide.
The Attorney General's lawsuit also named another employee of Asian Pacific Legal Services, as well as six attorneys who made court appearances on behalf of Huang and Wenko's clients. Prior to trial, the Attorney General obtained permanent injunctions, and civil penalties and restitution against these defendants in the amount of $81,000.00.
"The actions by this firm and its non-attorney owners harmed hundreds of clients who paid thousands of dollars for the services of an attorney, which they did not receive," Lockyer said. "I urge all Californians to exercise caution when seeking immigration consultant services."
The Attorney General's Office has published a brochure entitled "Immigration Services: Protecting Your Consumer Rights," which is available in Armenian, Chinese, English, Hmong, Korean, Spanish and Vietnamese. The brochure may be viewed at the Attorney General's website at http://www.ag.ca.gov/immigrant/publications.htm. To view the judgments online, click here.
Consumers who believe they have been victimized by unscrupulous immigration consultants also may call the Attorney General's Office of Immigrant Assistance at 1-888-587-0557.