For decades, Lacayo & Associates defrauded clients with large fees for services they were neither qualified nor legally authorized to provide—risking clients’ immigration cases
SAN FRANCISCO (Aug. 30, 2016) — A San Francisco Superior Court judge will hear arguments today from City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s office in his suit against a predatory immigration consulting business that has illegally provided incompetent services while robbing clients of thousands of dollars, according to a complaint filed Aug. 15. The civil suit against Lacayo & Associates and its principals, Leonard Lacayo and Ada Lacayo, describes how for decades they led clients to falsely believe Mr. Lacayo was an attorney who could provide legal services in their immigration cases. Instead, the defendants would take large fees from its clients and perform little or no work—placing some clients at risk of deportation in the process.
Herrera is seeking to expedite the briefing schedule in court in efforts to hasten a hearing on his motion for preliminary injunction. He argues that many more victims may be defrauded by the Lacayos’ unlawful practices and suffer irreparable harm if not stopped immediately. The lawsuit alleges that in deceptively operating their immigration consulting business, the Lacayos consistently violated a long list of safeguards mandated by the California Immigration Consultant Act. This included failing to post required notices, failing to provide contracts in the client’s native language, unlawfully offering legal advice and advertising their immigration consulting services without stating they are not lawyers, amongst other violations.
“For far too long Lacayo and his associates preyed on immigrants who are seeking legal assistance in their efforts to navigate through the complex immigration system and work on achieving the American dream,” Herrera said. “Not only did they defraud victims by charging high fees for services they cannot lawfully provide, but they jeopardized their clients’ access to immigration benefits they are eligible for. Through this lawsuit I hope to bring the Lacayos to justice for their exploitation of immigrants in San Francisco and to prevent any other immigrants from becoming victims of their fraudulent operation. I want to thank the International Institute of the Bay Area, La Raza Centro Legal, East Bay Community Law Center, Dolores Street Community Services, Immigration Legal Resource Center, the State Bar of California, and the Executive Office of Immigration Review for helping us prepare our legal case.”
Lacayo & Associates has been operating in San Francisco since 1986. Mr. Lacayo is a notary public but is not licensed to practice law nor registered with the state as an immigration consultant. Yet, he routinely defrauds clients by falsely representing himself as a lawyer and shoddily performing immigration-related services. Victims report that after charging thousands of dollars in fees, Mr. Lacayo would fail to ever submit their applications, or would submit applications that were denied due to his inadequate preparation. In many cases it was only when clients sought assistance elsewhere that they realized that Mr. Lacayo was not an attorney and learned the true status of their cases.
If successful, the case could result in civil penalties of up to $2,500 for each violation and recover funds for consumers who were victimized by Lacayo & Associates’ unlawful, fraudulent, and unfair practices. Herrera is also seeking a preliminary injunction to force Defendants to immediately comply with the Immigration Consultant Act, remove from their advertising any misleading statements about the “legal services” they provide, and give written notice to clients who received immigration related services within the past four years of the clients’ rights under California law and the fact that Leonard Lacayo is not a licensed attorney.
Services for victims
Victims of Lacayo & Associates who are looking for a licensed attorney to take over their case should contact the Bar Association of San Francisco’s Lawyer Referral and Information Service hotline at (415)989-1616 and ask to speak with Antonio Hernandez.
Others who would like to make a complaint about Leonard or Ada Lacayo or Lacayo & Associates or wish to assist the San Francisco City Attorney Office’s in prosecuting this legal action can contact the office’s hotline at (415) 355-3270.
The case is: People of the State of California v. Leonard Lacayo et al., San Francisco Superior Court Case No. CGC 15-553699, filed August 15, 2016. Complete documentation on the case and Spanish version of the news release is available at: https://www.sfcityattorney.org/