Tuesday, December 18, 2018     Volume: 19, Issue: 41
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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on December 5th, 2018, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 19, Issue 40 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 19, Issue 40

El Monte paralegal fights allegations of unauthorized practice in Santa Maria

By Kasey Bubnash

The State Bar of California is working to shut down a Los Angeles County paralegal office that allegedly provided unauthorized immigration services to migrant farmworkers in the Santa Maria area, "fraudulently" charging some of them more than $12,000. 

In a Nov. 30 press release, the State Bar announced that it had obtained an interim order to temporarily stop business at Vincent Enriquez's El Monte-based office, where he provides paralegal and document preparation services as NVE Associates Inc. The order, filed through the Los Angeles County Superior Court, includes an injunction against Enriquez, and also allowed the State Bar to reclaim all his client files and other records and freeze bank accounts associated with the office.

Prior to this, the State Bar said in its press release that it sent cease and desist notices to Enriquez regarding his unauthorized practice of law, and only initiated these additional enforcement actions after he failed to comply. The Bar said it will attempt to return seized client files or documents to Enriquez's former clients, and will inform them of the court proceedings. 

In its complaint, the State Bar claims that Enriquez offered legal services to farmworkers on the Central Coast, including several in Santa Maria, and portrayed himself as an immigration attorney while unlicensed. State Bar officials say Enriquez was hired by several Santa Maria residents after he worked to solicit clients in the area, and the Bar alleges that he ensured clients they qualified for green cards and provided them with unauthorized legal advice. 

Enriquez then allegedly filed asylum applications for some of his clients, according to the State Bar, a process that resulted in the initiation of deportation proceedings against two Santa Maria clients, who he allegedly charged more than $12,000 in legal fees. 

But Enriquez, who spoke with the Sun in a phone interview immediately after filing his response to the State Bar's complaint in court on Dec. 4, said that his office strictly offers paralegal and insurance brokerage services. 

"I know the line that is between an attorney and paralegal," Enriquez told the Sun. "I'm careful."


UNDER INVESTIGATION:
While the State Bar of California claims that Vincent Enriquez of NVE Associates, Inc. in El Monte (business pictured) provided unauthorized immigration services to migrant farmworkers in Santa Maria, Enriquez denies the charges.
PHOTO FROM FACEBOOK

Enriquez, who said he worked with roughly 24 clients, many in the Santa Maria area, outright denied the State Bar's claims that he provided specific legal advice and posed as an attorney. His company's website clearly states that he's a paralegal, Enriquez said, as do his business cards, signs in his office, advertisements, and social media pages. 

The NVE Associates website states that the office offers income tax, auto and life insurance, notary, divorce, and paralegal services. It describes the NVE staff as "incredibly affordable law professionals," and reads, "And don't worry: If it becomes clear that your case does require the help of an attorney, NVE Associates will refer you to an expert lawyer and get you the legal aid you need."

Enriquez said he did provide immigration consultation services to those he felt he could help, and in the two instances outlined in the State Bar's complaint, Enriquez said he charged his clients for the preparation of documents and paperwork, which he then passed on to an attorney he referred those clients to. 

That attorney then complained to the State Bar, Enriquez said, claiming that he misled the clients and made their chances at success through the immigration process unlikely. 

"I collected money, yes, and I admitted it in my response," Enriquez said. "But I did not say I'm the attorney, ever." 

The State Bar, which is charged with licensing, regulating, and disciplining attorneys in California, says that while the law allows paralegals to offer immigration services, such as translating answers to questions on state or federal forms, obtaining copies of supporting documents, or referring clients to authorized legal representation, they cannot represent clients in court or provide specific legal advice.

If they do, as the State Bar claims Enriquez has, it is considered an unauthorized practice of law, and the Bar can take action in civil court. Although Bar officials say they cannot take criminal action in these cases, they often refer cases to local and state law enforcement agencies to do so. 

Enriquez said he will be representing himself in Los Angeles Superior Court at a hearing on Dec. 11, but may have to hire an attorney if his case goes to a trial. Still, he said that would be difficult, seeing as his bank account is frozen and he does not have access to any of his money. 

"They're hurting me because they froze my checking account and I have salaries to pay and Christmas is right down the street," Enriquez said. "I have a 16-year-old, a 14-year-old, and wife, and right now I can't even pay to fill up my tank."

The State Bar said in its press release that former clients of NVE Associations should contact it directly at (213) 765-1636 to find out whether any of the seized documents or files belong to them. Multilingual interpretation is available.




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