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SF prosecutor files motion against company for allegedly defrauding migrants

SF Prosecutor files motion against company
(L-R) San Francisco Mayor London Breed and California Assembly member David Chiu during the announcement of Chiu's appointment to city attorney on Wednesday September 29, 2021 in San Francisco, Calif. (Daniel Montes/Bay City News)

By Bay City News

San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu announced Thursday that legal action is being taken against an "immigration consulting business" for allegedly charging immigrants for fraudulent legal services they were not allowed to provide.

The motion to enforce an injunction was filed Monday and would prohibit Leonard Lacayo and Lacayo & Associates from providing immigration services.

Lacayo is accused of falsely representing himself as an attorney and defrauding immigrants into "paying for bogus legal services and putting many at risk of losing their legal rights," the city attorney's office said.

Lacayo & Associates has been in business in San Francisco since 1986. Lacayo is reportedly a notary public, but is not licensed to practice law or registered as an immigration consultant.

In 2017, the city attorney's office filed an injunction prohibiting Lacayo & Associates from providing immigration-related services and ordering Lacayo to pay restitution and civil penalties.

"Leo Lacayo has demonstrated that he has no respect for the law or the immigrant communities he purports to serve. For years, he has profited from vulnerable immigrants, taking their money and putting them at risk," Chiu stressed. 

"Despite being barred from providing immigration services, Lacayo has conveniently pretended that our warrant against him does not exist. We are seeking to put an end to this illegal conduct and protect immigrant communities from this fraudster," he added.

Chiu accused Lacayo of providing services for which he was not qualified and, at times, failing to provide service to clients. The city attorney also said the businessman has "tricked" hundreds of immigrants into paying him to handle their immigration matters.

Lacayo denies any of the accusations and adds that he only works as a notary and with tax preparation. He said a lawyer in the same building does work with immigrants.

After the injunction, the firm continued to operate, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services reported that more than 400 immigration applications and petitions were filed at the firm's direction after Lacayo & Associates was barred from providing immigration-related services.

"These uninterrupted activities show blatant disregard for the rule of law," Chiu's office said.

The motion filed on Monday seeks to enforce and extend the injunction for five years. 

The legal action also hopes to ensure that Lacayo's most recent clients have access to their immigration documents and are informed that their cases are not being handled by licensed attorneys. 

Chiu also seeks fines, fees and access to the company's transaction records.

Lacayo called the motion a "witch hunt" motivated by "political reasons". He said he will continue to operate his tax preparation business as he has done since the court order.

"My office is open," Lacayo explained. "It has never closed."

The investigation was assisted by the San Francisco Bar Association's Center for Justice and Diversity, the State Bar of California Office of Chief Trial Counsel and the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, Chiu's office said.

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