Police arrested a Bronx man yesterday for continuing to scam immigrants by posing as an immigration lawyer after repeated court orders demanding that he stop, dating back more than a decade. Edwin Rivera, 68, ran an operation called Immigracion Hoy News Today out of a storefront in Westchester Square. Though the business was billed as an accounting office, Rivera advertised himself as an attorney with more than 30 years of experience, targeting undocumented immigrants looking to legalize their status, according to the Attorney General's Office, which announced his arrest.
In reality, Rivera had no law license, and he often did not do the legal work he'd claimed, officials said. Rivera's arrest comes after Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Betty Owen Stinson found Rivera in civil and criminal contempt in August for failing to comply with a series of orders demanding that he stop using deceptive business practices, and eventually, that he stop providing immigration services altogether.
Rivera has been running afoul of the authorities since the mid-'90s, when the feds prosecuted him for defrauding the U.S. government as far back as 1987. Court records indicate that someone by his name spent two years in prison facing such a charge from 1993 to 1995, and was sentenced to time served, along with mental health and drug treatment and two years of supervised release.
In 2004, the New York Attorney General's Office started looking into Rivera's business after a tip about him advertising in a Spanish-language newspaper that the Dream Act had passed and he could help undocumented students and veterans apply for amnesty. He charged $1,500 per application, according to the AG's Office, even though the act never passed. In 2005, a court ordered that he cut the shenanigans, but he kept at it, drawing a total ban on him providing immigration services in New York in 2008.
Obviously, Rivera seems to have continued his scamming for another several years. The latest arrest relates to a victim who the AG's Office says paid Rivera $10,000 and got his help from 2008 to 2015, as well as evidence from an undercover investigator. Over the last decade, Rivera is said to have duped immigrants out of $60,000 in supposed legal fees. When clients asked for refunds, he refused to turn over the money, according to prosecutors.
Rivera is now set to serve 30 days to six months in jail, and is supposed to pay $34,000 in fines and restitution.
Immigration law scammers like Rivera are common in immigrant neighborhoods around the country, so much so that there's a name for them: notarios. Though not confined to Spanish-speaking communities, Spanish-speaking notarios often advertise themselves as "notario publicos." This translates to "notary public," but is deceptive because in many Latin American countries notaries have the equivalent of a law license and can represent people in government matters, whereas in the U.S. they cannot.
In addition to ripping off clients, notarios can file faulty applications that lead to immigrants being unnecessarily deported, or otherwise harm their legal situation.
The Attorney General's Office encourages people victimized by notarios to reach out to its consumer hotline at (800) 771-7755, or to visit its website.