Bernal 'Immigration Consultants' To Pay City $400K In Fraud Lawsuit

Lacayo and Associates, located at 3330 Mission St. (near 29th St.), has settled with the city of San Francisco for $400,000 in restitution and civil penalties.

As part of the settlement, the firm, which does tax preparation, will also cease offering immigration-related services. 

In the case, City Attorney Dennis Herrera alleged that the firm—which bills itself as immigration consultants—defrauded clients seeking assistance with immigration cases, among other services.

“The Lacayos enriched themselves for decades by victimizing the vulnerable,” Herrera said in a statement. “They not only defrauded their victims, they jeopardized their immigration cases."

"These victims thought they were doing what the law requires," Herrera added.

"Instead, the Lacayos’ incompetent or nonexistent work squandered legitimate opportunities for these victims to obtain legal residency. It is appalling the level of risk the Lacayos placed clients in by charging excessive fees for work they could not perform.”

Lacayo & Associates at 3330 Mission St. | Image: Google Maps

Herrera first filed the lawsuit against proprietors Leonard and Ada Lacayo in August 2016, alleging that the couple led clients to believe Mr. Lacayo was an attorney who could provide legal services in immigration cases.

The firm charged its clients significant fees, yet it "perform[ed] little or no work—placing some clients at risk of deportation in the process."

Herrera's office set up a hotline for victims of the firm as part of the lawsuit. During the past year, approximately 170 calls were received by the agency. 

Victims reported that after accepting payment, Lacayo would often fail to submit immigration applications, or would submit paperwork ultimately denied by Homeland Security because of incomplete or inadequate preparation.

The City Attorney's office also said that many of the firm's victims would find out that Lacayo was not an attorney only after seeking assistance elsewhere. 

“I’m grateful that we are able to conclude this case with a measure of justice and prevent other immigrants from becoming victims of the Lacayos’ incompetent and illegal services,” Herrera said. 

Under the terms of the settlement agreement, the $400,000 payment—secured by a deed of trust on the Lacayos' San Francisco home—will be split between the victims, with a portion covering the cost of the investigation and enforcement. 

The couple will also need to remove any references to immigration-related services from social media as well as advertising, post a sign in English and Spanish at their office indicating they are not attorneys, and return all original documents to clients should they request them.

The attorney's office will also have access to inspect the firm's records to ascertain compliance. 

“I...hope this serves as a strong warning to anyone even considering exploiting immigrants and other communities like the Lacayos did," Herrera said.

"San Francisco will protect its immigrant communities, whether it’s from local con artists or the president’s unconstitutional orders. No one is above the law.”

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Bernal immigration consultants to pay city 400k in fraud lawsuit