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Monday, September 11, 2017

SFALP Case Reaches $400,000 Settlement with “Predatory” Immigration Consultants

San Francisco City Hall, Photographed by Mike Hofmann.

Working with The San Francisco City Attorney’s Office, Yale Law students from the San Francisco Affirmative Litigation Project (SFALP) helped secure a $400,000 settlement from immigration consultants Lacayo & Associates and its principals Leonard Lacayo and Ada Lacayo.

The lawsuit against Lacayo & Associates was filed in August 2016 for perpetrating an illegal immigration scam that the City Attorney’s Office said was an example of “predatory” notario fraud. This means the firm was offering legal services without having the necessary qualifications to do so. The case alleged that the Lacayos’ business defrauded customers by charging large fees for services they did not—and legally could not—provide. The scam involved misleading customers into believing the principal Leonard Lacayo is a lawyer, filing deficient and improper immigration applications for their clients, overcharging for notary services, and violating legal requirements governing immigration consultants.

"Our work was challenging, meaningful, and varied—from strategy, to legal research, to deeply engaging with what was at stake for the vulnerable populations that the defendant made a career of targeting." — Chiyel Hayles ’17

“The facts of the case were particularly egregious, both in terms of the scale of the fraud and its devastating consequences,” said Tessa Bialek ’13, who worked on the litigation during her tenure as SFALP Clinical Fellow. “Many of Leonard Lacayo’s victims did not just lose money, but—often unbeknownst to them—faced deportation as a result of his actions (or inaction) in their immigration cases.” 

 “SFALP students participated in the Lacayo case all the way from the pre-filing investigation through settlement,” said Deputy City Attorney Natalie Orr. “They drafted witness declarations and deposition outlines as well as a motion for summary adjudication. The students were particularly helpful in researching legal predicates that we ultimately used as the basis for our complaint and our motion for a preliminary injunction.”

The litigation provided SFALP students meaningful opportunity to build a strong case alongside deputy city attorneys through factual development and legal analysis. SFALP student Bonnie Robinson ’18 contributed to discovery efforts and helped draft a dispositive motion.

“These were fact-intensive assignments that brought home not only the harm the Lacayos caused the people who trusted and relied on their services, but also the inspiring persistence those individuals displayed in navigating the immigration process and in working with the City Attorney's Office to make sure that others would not fall victim to the Lacayos’ schemes,” Robinson said.

“I was so moved to work on this case, especially at a time when particular immigrant groups are increasingly under attack,” added Chiyel Hayles ’17. “Our work was challenging, meaningful, and varied—from strategy, to legal research, to deeply engaging with what was at stake for the vulnerable populations that the defendant made a career of targeting. This matter had the potential to really impact the livelihood (and lives) of people victimized for doing their best to gain more favorable immigration status.”

In addition to the $400,000 payment, the settlement agreement requires the Lacayos to cease any immigration-related services and remove references to those services from social media or advertising.

“Given the heinousness of the Lacayos’ acts—and their clear illegality—ensuring that their victims would receive the justice that they deserved was critically important,” said Samir Doshi ’18. “I’m proud to see the SFALP team pull through yet again.”

Bialek said she was grateful to be able to work with the deputy city attorneys who pursued the case with such “grit and care.”

“I am so thrilled, and not at all surprised, to see this wonderful result that they have achieved in this case.”

The San Francisco Affirmative Litigation Project (SFALP) is a partnership between Yale Law School and the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office. The clinic is led by Yale Law School Dean and Sol & Lillian Goldman Professor of Law Heather Gerken. SFALP students work with San Francisco Deputy City Attorneys to conceive, develop, and litigate some of the most innovative public-interest lawsuits in the country—lawsuits that tackle problems with local dimensions but national effects.