INVESTIGATION: Undocumented Immigrants Defrauded by RI and NY-Based Scheme
Monday, January 22, 2018
A GoLocalProv.com investigation has revealed a tie between locally registered non-profit and Carlos Davila, a convicted child molester and murderer from New York who was barred from representing immigrants in 2017 and fined $1.3 million. Now, a leading immigration attorney is claiming fraud by the organization in Rhode Island.
Davila and Central Falls’ Bienvenido “Alex” Peralta Martinez are listed by the State of Rhode Island as being the President and Vice-President of “A New Beginning for Immigrants’ Rights,” which a Venezuelan national told GoLocal he paid over $1,000 to help obtain a work permit, only to receive what he said was fraudulent paperwork.
The fraud victim then contacted attorney Joseph Molina Flynn, the President of the Rhode Island Latino PAC, for help.
“You could certainly call this immigration based extortion,” said Flynn, after the victim, who has lived and worked in Rhode Island for decades, reached out “A New Beginning” to obtain a proper work permit. The victim thought he was going through a legal process.
“This is the first time I heard of this operation but upon looking up the name, I realize I had heard of it previously,” said Flynn. “‘I’d heard about the Bronx operation, but I hadn’t known it had come to Rhode Island.”
READ: More About Providence-Based Immigration Organization
“New York City’s Department of Consumer Affairs hit Bronx businessman Carlos Davila with its biggest fine ever for an immigration service provider — more than $1.3 million. A joint investigation by Telemundo 47 and WNYC radio exposed Davila’s alleged practices of charging hundreds of dollars for bogus ID cards for people facing deportation,” reported NBC New York in July 2017.
While Davila faced sanctions in New York, it was Martinez that the victim said he had all the interactions with — and paid all the money to — in Rhode Island.
Martinez, when reached about his role in the organization, tried to distance himself from the controversy, or any wrongdoing.
“Carlos Davila was a man I met a while ago through a church, when I was taking some seminars,” said Martinez. “We made a relationship, and started a not-for-profit here, to serve the community. You’re probably hinting at the situation that happened [New York] but I don’t know what happened there.”
Martinez admits that he and Davila were business partners.
“I put in my resignation with the organization before that all happened…there was some funny business, [Davila] was hard to get in touch with over the phone,” said Martinez. “He did all the filings, and he as accredited to. If anyone reached out to me, I gave then [Davila’s] office number and that was the end of that. After I heard of what was going on, I wanted no part of it.”
An examination of the paperwork provided by the victim shows that the handwriting for the bogus paperwork for the “court date” Boston is the same used for the filing with the Rhode Island Corporations database — and signed by Martinez.
Paying Hundreds, Coming Up Empty
“In October 2016, I went to this meeting — it was in Providence near Elmwood. There were people there who wanted to see how fix their immigration status and Venezuelans in particular,” said the victim. “I went to the first interview in February 2017. It was with Martinez. He basically took my info, told me how the process was going to be [for a work permit], and how long it was going to be. He told me it would be around 3 months, and while it wasn’t going to be free, but it wouldn’t be expensive.”
“From that point, we met a few more times. I didn’t think he was going to take advantage of me, because he was Hispanic,” said the victim, who explained that as more time went on, he began to get nervous — and unable to get in touch with the organization.
“[Martinez] contacted me and said he changed his number because he said he was having problems,” said the victim. “But some friends of mine said you’re too trusting, don’t be like that, some lawyers lie. I said I had concerns and went twice, no one was there, there was the same amount of furniture, but no one there — then they changed the storefront.”
The victim said he demanded all the paperwork after having paid over $1,000 to the organization, and that it was a cousin, who had helped her ex-husband get his work permit, that raised the flag on what he got back — including paperwork which appeared to show a hearing at immigration court in Boston, but turned out to be bogus.
“I called the Boston court where it was supposed to be,” said the victim. “The woman said she had that room, but there are no hearings on that date.”
“I didn’t think I’d be here this long, I thought I’d be back [in Venezuala] by now,” said the victim. “I’m not political — but following my country’s problems, I’m more and more concerned. My relatives don’t eat every day, my sister used to be well-off. Her words were she thought she’d never see the day of someone going on the street to ask for food in a city that’s supposed to have money.”
Molina on the Record
After the victim contacted Flynn and showed him the paperwork, Flynn walked through what he said were the red flags on what he saw — and how “notarios” — notary publics — can prey on immigrants who seek work permits, which can set them back if they should have sought asylum instead.
“These sort of non-lawyer operations can prey on their clients, to initiate the process to initiate a work permit, costing thousands and thousands of dollars,” said Flynn. “If they get them, however, you’re in a process that gets a less than positive outcome,” noting that the proper procedure would be to initiate an asylum application then seek a work permit, not vice versa.
“The interesting thing is that in Rhode Island, we don’t do anything about the notario operations. In Massachusetts, there is a task force and they’re prosecuting it as an unlawful practice of law, because they’re giving legal advice, and non-lawyers aren’t allowed to give legal advice,” said Flynn.
“In most [Hispanic] countries, the town ‘notario’ is the highest ranking legal official,” said Flynn. “And that gives them credibility that they don’t actually have here.”
“From a legal standpoint, I spoke with [the victim] about his options,” said Flynn. “To be clear, because of the situation in Venezuela — asylum is a viable option. The thing with asylum, however, is that by law, you’re supposed to apply within one year. But there ways to overcome that, including documenting the hardships at the home country.”