The New York State Attorney General’s Office has pressed formal charges against Christine Owad, a New York-based paralegal accused of scamming undocumented Irish immigrants out of thousands of dollars by filing fraudulent immigration applications on their behalf, the Irish Echo has learned.
The State Attorney General’s Office yestereday served 58-year-old Owad with a temporary restraining order, which will force her to shut down her immigration business immediately. The office has also filed a lawsuit against Owad, which seeks to ban her permanently from engaging in any business relating to immigration and the return of payments she took from clients.
“This office will take aggressive action against people who prey on the those seeking the American dream using false promises,” said District Attorney Office spokesperson Christine Pritchard, speaking to the Echo today.
The news comes just days after Owad allegedly called some of her former clients vowing to protect them from being deported as a result of her actions.
“She’s saying she’s hired a lawyer in Chicago at her own cost to arrange for them to have legal representation,” according to immigration lawyer Eamonn Dornan.
“She’s saying they shouldn’t be concerned about being deported.”
Dornan is advising a number of undocumented Irish immigrants who paid Owad up to $4,000 apiece after she claimed she knew how to get them green cards and work permits. Instead, Owad allegedly filed work application forms that her clients were not entitled to, putting them at risk of committing immigration fraud and potentially exposing their undocumented status to immigration authorities.
Owad’s case is likely to be dealt with under the New York City Notarios laws, which came into effect in April 2004. The laws, aimed at protecting immigrants from fraudulent businesses, outline a number of requirements for immigration service providers. Owad, who told her clients she was an immigration lawyer, may be in breach of the law stating that immigration service providers must indicate that they are not an attorney and cannot act on behalf of their clients in court.
“Each customer must have a written contract with the provider that specifies what work is being done and what fees are being charged for what,” according to Alan Pollack, of the American Immigration Lawyers’ Association.
“Ms. Owad could be in breach of that law,” said Pollack, who chairs the New York chapter’s Ethics and Law Practice Department.
In his view, the Notarios laws do not go far enough in curtailing immigration frauds.
“Unfortunately, this law doesn’t spell out actual punishments, so she might end up only paying a fine,” he said. As yet, there has been no indication that the State Attorney General’s office will seek to bring a custodial sentence on Owad.
“I definitely think there needs to be criminal charges or consequences in order for it to be curtailed. I don’t think monetary charges are disincentive enough,” Pollack added.
According to the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs, 76 immigration service providers have been found not to be complying with the Notarios laws since their inception.