There was a flood of calls into New York State General Andrew Cuomo's office Friday, all immigrants who paid thousands of dollars to two well-known Manhattan nonprofit foundations shut down and under investigation for allegedly scamming immigrants with false services.
Among the callers was Carlos, 46, of Huntington. Carlos, who did not reveal his last name because he is undocumented, paid more than $20,000 to the International Immigrants Foundation over nine years with the hope of ultimately getting permanent residency.
Thursday, he learned the organization, along with the International Professional Association, both run by Edward Juarez, was ordered temporarily shut by a federal judge.
"I'm really sad, I have nothing else left and I've been crying," said the Guatemalan native. "I'm barely making enough to support myself after all the fees and everything we paid."
According to Cuomo's office, the scope of damage caused by Juarez, whose organizations generated millions of dollars in revenue every year, is immense, affecting up to 50,000 people across the metropolitan area. Juarez is a well-known figure, with a radio show on WPAT/93.1 FM and a weekly column for El Diario La Prensa newspaper.
A message from Juarez on International Immigrants Foundation's voice mail Friday said: "Today our 37 years of support to the immigrant community has been challenged but there is nothing to fear because there is nothing to hide. The foundation's records are in complete order. Attorneys for the International Immigrants Foundation are vigorously defending our reinstitution and we will clear our name in court and before our community." Members who have pending cases in immigration court are still represented by competent counsel, the message says.
Cuomo's office filed suit against the two companies Thursday in State Supreme Court in Manhattan. The suit accuses the businesses of defrauding immigrants with false promises of citizenship, charging illegal and exorbitant monthly fees and engaging in legal practice when they weren't authorized to do so."These businesses make millions of dollars by exploiting the dreams of New York's immigrant community," said Cuomo in a news release. "By lying about their ability to provide legitimate legal services, these organizations threaten to devastate families and their hopes of a new life."