Advocates say immigration fraud in our region is getting worse. One victim, Felipe, says he followed the rules on his quest to become an American citizen – such as paying taxes and saving up to buy his home.
But that dream has been damaged by the very person who claimed to be helping. For $9,500 plus fees, Felipe believed that Andre Salomon of Salomon Multi-Services would file his immigration papers. Felipe says Salomon claimed to be a lawyer and, according to court papers, promised to “work closely to immigration and bring the necessary satisfaction.”
But now, two years later, Salomon admitted to us – he never even submitted the application.
Advocates tell us, immigration fraud spikes whenever the topic of immigration is in the news. The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office has worked 39 such complaints – the majority from our region. But there’s no way to fully measure how much of the fraud occurs because so many victims never tell law enforcement.
Attorney Vanessa Stine, of Friends of Farmworkers, tells us that new victims arrive in her office every week.
Sometimes, the fraud is based on shared heritage. Other times, like Felipe’s case, it hinges on a single word: “notario.” The word signifies a specialized attorney in many Spanish-speaking countries. But in the United States, it’s a notary public with no authority to practice law.
“It’s a very misleading name,” said Michael Borgen, the Philadelphia District Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Borgen says, some immigration servicers may promise to fast-track applications or offer legal services they’re not qualified to provide.
Often, it damages an immigrant’s chance at citizenship permanently.
“It’s targeting people who are really not aware of what benefits they’re eligible for,” says Borgen.
But the NBC10 Investigators discovered – even after the accused go to court, they don’t always follow the rules.
In February of last year, after finding him liable for more than 57-thousand dollars in damages – a judge prohibited Andre Salomon from advertising or offering “immigration services.”
And yet, when we visited Salomon’s office last month, we found those very words painted right on the wall of his waiting room. When we asked about it, Salomon suddenly climbed onto a stool and began covering up the painted writing with paper, as our cameras rolled.
Salomon said he didn’t see the writing – even though he walks through the door beneath it every day. He showed us other spots where the words had been hidden from view and insists he never told anyone he’s an attorney, nor called himself a “notario.”
Salomon tells us now, submitting Felipe’s application would’ve exposed him to deportation – a distraction, according to Stine, from Salomon’s own wrongdoing.
The judge ordered Salomon to pay Felipe more than 28-thousand dollars in restitution and damages. Salomon made only his second payment just the day after we started asking him questions about the case – but he has still paid less than ten percent of the total he owes.
As for the victim, himself – Felipe says the loss of nearly 10-thousand dollars is overshadowed by his loss of confidence in the American system, as Salomon’s business remains open.