A Texas nonprofit that was not authorized to process immigration cases has been shuttered and its leaders ordered to pay restitution and penalties of more than a half-million dollars.
The Texas Attorney General’s Office announced that it secured an agreed final judgment and permanent injunction against Cristo Vive in Austin, Texas for providing unauthorized legal services in the Travis County area. The state filed an “enforcement action” in August 2012 against the organization for violating the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act and the Notary Public Act by unlawfully representing they were legally authorized to process immigration cases before federal authorities. State investigators later discovered that the defendants were neither licensed attorneys nor accredited to offer immigration-related legal services.
The final judgment, signed and filed on Aug. 30, permanently shut down the organization and prohibits director Jorge Sanchez-Gutierrez, treasurer Maria Eugenia Rodarte-Sanchez and president Leslie Bernard “Bernie” Boudreaux, Jr., from advertising, performing or accepting money for immigration consulting services.
The three defendants were assessed civil penalties of $300,000 and up to $250,000 in restitution to affected clients. Additionally, they are prohibited from soliciting, advertising or providing immigration services and acting as a volunteer that handles money for any nonprofit. Sanchez also was ordered to surrender his notary commission and stamp to the Texas Secretary of State.
Federal law requires that only licensed attorneys and organizations accredited by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Board of Immigration Appeals can offer immigration consulting services. Notaries public are authorized under state law to witness the signing of legal documents but forbids them from providing immigration services unless they hold a separate license to practice law.
Cristo Vivo, translated from Spanish meaning Christ Lives, filed a short-form tax return for the fiscal year ending September 2011, reporting about $220,000 in total revenue and about $230,000 in expenses. Sanchez-Gutierrez was the only one listed with compensation, of $78,2000 as president. The 2011 form lists the vast majority of it program service accomplishments as “assisting 1,414 clients with social services counseling and non-legal assistance in different matters including some continuation of Immigration Nationality Act,” in addition to assisting 255 clients with preparation of income tax returns.