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New York AG joins suit accusing bail service of preying on immigrants

New York State Attorney General Letitia James has

New York State Attorney General Letitia James has joined a lawsuit against a company accused of overcharging immigrants seeking bail and threatening deportation if they did not pay. Credit: AP/Kathy Willens

New York State Attorney General Letitia James has joined a civil suit accusing a Georgia company of preying on immigrants held in federal detention centers by misrepresenting bail bond fees and threatening borrowers with deportation or jail if unable to repay.

The suit, filed Monday in Virginia, accuses Libre by Nexus, an Atlanta-based company serving immigrants needing bail bond services, of deceptively targeting vulnerable immigrants, charging them thousands of dollars — often exceeding the face value of the bond — and forcing them to sign documents they don't understand.

Many victims were forced to rent bulky, and often inoperable GPS ankle monitors that cannot be removed, according to the suit, which was filed jointly by James, the attorneys general of Massachusetts and Virginia, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

"Libre by Nexus engaged in deceptive business practices targeting our state's most vulnerable and marginalized communities," James said Monday in a virtual news conference. "And for me, what's most egregious about this case … is the inhumane ways Libre shackled immigrants with homing devices so they could keep tabs on their investments."

In a statement, Mike Donovan, Libre's president and chief executive, denied the allegations and argued the "poorly drafted complaint" rehashes old allegations the company successfully defended in previous cases.

"Libre by Nexus is committed to fighting for immigrants scarred by the torture of 'civil' immigration detention," Donovan said. "While we have fought to release tens of thousands of immigrants from detention, especially during the last four years, the AGs have taken time and money to investigate our company."

Libre's statement portrayed the firm as victims, saying that prosecutors are investigating "the only company helping the immigrants they claim to be protecting. Libre by Nexus welcomes this action as finally these inquiries can be brought out of the shadows and into one courtroom."

The lawsuit, which seeks undisclosed civil penalties and restitution to consumers, contends the firm was engaged in a predatory scam that traps victims held in ICE detention centers — primarily Hispanics who speak no English — by offering to pay their immigration bonds to secure their release.

In exchange for securing a cash bond, Libre requires immigrants to pay upfront fees equal to 25-30% of the bond plus $420 per month to "lease" a GPS-tracking ankle monitor until the case is resolved, often several years later, prosecutors said.

The lawsuit accuses Libre of misleading immigrants into believing the monthly fees will help pay down the bond and will be refunded at the end of their proceedings. But these fees are never refunded​​​​​​ and Libre is, in reality, a middleman between the detainees and the bondsmen, said David Uejio, acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

"Getting trapped by Libre's offer to pay their immigration bonds makes it even harder for these immigrants to establish themselves financially," Uejio said. "It dramatically reduces their ability to realize the dream of security for their family and erects insurmountable financial barriers that prevent them from establishing themselves and providing for their families."

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