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 it was 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 a lawyer and scamming immigrants into “into paying for sham 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 reported to be 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 he has zero regard for the law or the immigrant communities he purports to serve. For years, he has profited off of vulnerable immigrants, taking their money while putting them at risk,” Chiu said. “Despite being barred from providing immigration services, Lacayo has conveniently pretended that our injunction against him doesn’t exist. We are seeking to put a stop to this unlawful conduct and protect immigrant communities from this scam artist.”
Chiu accused Lacayo of providing services he was not qualified to provide and sometimes failing to provide a service to clients. The city attorney also said that the businessman has “tricked” hundreds of immigrants into paying him to handle their immigration issues.
Lacayo denies any of the accusations, adding that he only works as a notary and with tax preparation. He said that a lawyer in the same building does work with immigrants.
Following the injunction, the business has continued to operate, with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services reporting that over 400 immigration applications and petitions have been filed with the business’s address after Lacayo & Associates had been prohibited from providing immigration-related services.
“These uninterrupted activities display a blatant disregard for the rule of law,” Chiu’s office said.
The motion filed Monday aims to enforce and extend the injunction for five years. The legal action also hopes to ensure Lacayo’s most recent clients gain access to their immigration documents and are informed that their cases are not being handled by licensed lawyers. Chiu is also seeking penalties, fees and access to the business’s transaction records.
Lacayo called the motion a “witch hunt” that was motivated by “political reasons.” He said he will continue to operate his business for tax preparation as he has since the injunction.
“My office is open,” Lacayo said. “It has never closed.”
The investigation was aided by the Justice & Diversity Center of the Bar Association of San Francisco, the California State Bar’s Office of Chief Trial Counsel, and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, Chiu’s office said.