Miriam Mercedes Hernandez of Queens falsely promised to help immigrants secure permanent residency and citizenship

NEW YORK, NY (March 1, 2010) - Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo today announced his office has won a court judgment of more than $3 million against Miriam Mercedes Hernandez of Queens, who targeted and defrauded immigrants out of hundreds of thousands of dollars by promising to help them obtain legal status and then never doing so. The action is the latest in Attorney General Cuomo’s ongoing investigation into immigration fraud.

The judgment is the result of a lawsuit filed by Cuomo in May 2009, claiming Hernandez engaged in fraud and deceptive practices, and violated New York civil rights laws when she falsely promised to assist individuals and families seeking legal status. Hernandez wrongly claimed that she could obtain expedited legal status for people through her alleged relationships with government officials. For her services, Hernandez charged individuals up to $7,500 as an initial fee, and up to $15,000 per person. However, Hernandez never performed the services promised. When the victims requested a refund, Hernandez threatened them and refused to return their money or their documents.

“The court’s decision gives full restitution to victims who trusted this person to help them, and, in the end, were left with little more than lies and false promises,” said Attorney General Cuomo. “The victims in this case had the courage to come forward and help prevent more innocent people from falling prey to this fraud. My office will continue to investigate anyone who seeks to exploit and defraud immigrants.”

As a result of Cuomo’s lawsuit, the New York Supreme Court has ordered Hernandez to pay full restitution to the 37 families who came forward and showed that Hernandez defrauded them. Hernandez must also pay more than $2.8 million dollars in penalties for engaging in the unauthorized practice of law and misrepresenting to the public that she had a special relationship with immigration officials and elected officials. Hernandez is also permanently restricted from directly or indirectly engaging in the business of immigration services.

The lawsuit against Hernandez is the latest stage of Attorney General Cuomo’s ongoing investigation into allegations that immigrants and their families are being targeted for fraudulent and unauthorized immigration-related services in New York. Over the past several months, the Attorney General shut down four businesses for providing legal services to thousands of immigrants without being licensed to do so. Those companies were required to pay more than $100,000 in penalties and were permanently prohibited from operating a business that provides immigration services. Attorney General Cuomo has also sued five organizations for engaging in the unauthorized practice of law and targeting immigrants, and has issued more than 100 subpoenas to businesses and individuals allegedly engaged in unauthorized immigration-related services.

Cesar A. Perales, President and General Counsel of Latino Justice PRLDEF, said, “Attorney General Cuomo has stayed true to his promise to investigate fraud and discrimination and hold scam artists accountable for preying upon and taking advantage of immigrant communities. As a country of immigrants, and as fellow New Yorkers committed to fairness and justice, we should all applaud Attorney General Cuomo for enforcing the law and protecting the disadvantaged. This court ruling is a tremendous achievement.”

Angela Fernandez, Executive Director of the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights, said, “We were very pleased to see Attorney General Cuomo file this important case and are truly gratified to see the results of his efforts. The enforcement of New York’s laws is critical to protecting immigrant communities from fraud. Scam artists are targeting immigrant communities with false and misleading promises to adjust their immigration status, and Attorney General Cuomo’s efforts are having a meaningful impact in curtailing this type of fraud.”

New Yorkers who believe they have been a victim of immigration assistance fraud are urged to contact the Attorney General’s Immigration Services Fraud Unit Hotline at (866) 390-2992 or visit www.ag.ny.gov.

The case is being handled by Assistant Deputy Counselor Elizabeth De León and Assistant Attorney General Vilda Vera Mayuga, with the assistance of Nydia Shahjahan and Investigator David McManus, under the supervision of Civil Rights Bureau Chief Alphonso B. David and Counsel for Civil Rights Spencer Freedman.