By Elias G., Exclusive to Caribbean American Weekly
Brenda and Kathy (names changed for privacy), who spoke to Caribbean American Weekly recently, alleged that Arleigh Louison, a Grenadian national and New York resident, had defrauded them as he orchestrated a sham immigration practice in an office building located on 223rd Lenox Road, Brooklyn, adjacent to Congresswoman Yvette Clarke’s office.
Federal law enforcement agents arrested Louison on July 18, 2019, and he has been indicted in Vermont on 12 counts of making false statements and submitting over 1,800 fraudulent immigration applications to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
“A federal grand jury returned a 12-count indictment against Arleigh Louison, 53, of Brooklyn, New York, charging him with running an immigration fraud scheme that included the filing of false statements with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, including over 1,800 fraudulent applications for over 1,000 petitioners within the last four years. Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) agents arrested Louison in Brooklyn, New York, and executed a federal search warrant at his office,” said the U.S. Department of Justice in a press release.
“The indictment charges that the false statements were made in connection with Form I-360 petitions for status adjustments under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). In short, the indictment charges that Louison presented or caused the presentment of adjustment of status petitions containing false statements to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services Service Center in St. Albans, Vermont claiming that the petitioners were victims of abuse. The indictment also charges that these petitioners, who paid Louison for his services, did not discuss abuse with Louison, were not abused as described in the petitions, and did not authorize the statements made in the petitions Louison submitted to USCIS. The indictment also charges that Louison fabricated fee waiver petitions on behalf of these individuals without their knowledge.”
During their interview sessions with Caribbean American Weekly, immigration fraud victims Brenda and Kathy claimed that they knew nothing about Louison prior to going to his office, thinking he was an attorney. They conceded, however, they never asked him to verify his credentials, and he also neither denied nor confirmed his professional status. They said he had not told them, nor had he given them a written disclaimer, that he did not represent them as a lawyer. They said they trusted him and did not ask questions about his credentials because he was recommended by family and friends. They asserted he always spoke to them like an attorney and offered them legal advice.
Kathy is from the islands of Trinidad and Tobago, and, according to her, Louison’s illegal immigration law practice has contributed to her becoming an undocumented immigrant. She said that had she sought a legal advice from a licensed attorney, her troubles would not have quadrupled since 2016 – the year she first met Louison.
“When I got to his office/home in 2016, looking around the place, it looked legitimate because he had a lot of documents, USCIS letters lying around. He had a secretary. He showed me photos of people with work permits that he helped. The office space really looked like a law firm. He told me what he could do to adjust my immigration status. …Initially, I was able to receive a work permit. I was very glad that things were happening…after the first permit expired, I paid him again to renew it…but then something changed,” Kathy said.
“I wasn’t receiving updates. I would call; he would never respond. I would go to his office; they would tell me he was out; he was unavailable…I became frustrated and helpless. It took me awhile to realize I was dealing with a fraud. I now have hired a real lawyer to deal with the mess Louison has created.”
Due to her lack of information to access legitimate immigration lawyers, Kathy has now found herself in a very difficult situation though she has never thought she would become an undocumented immigrant.
“I am a law-abiding individual. I did not come to America to live as an undocumented immigrant. I thought I was getting help from a legitimate immigration lawyer. But Mr. Louison betrayed my trust and stopped communicating with me when my application was rejected by USCIS,” she said.
Brenda is from Grenada, and she has also lost her legal status here. She is currently facing possible deportation. She, too, blamed Louison for mishandling and ruining her immigration case.
“I met this lady…she is from the same country like me. She said to me, ‘girl, I must tell you. I went to this lawyer -guy and he did my papers and I am going to visit home now.’ I was so happy when she told me that. She gave me his number. I called him right away; he told me when to come in. I went in… I told him a friend sent me. He asked me a couple of questions. Where I am from, if I was married or have children, how long I was here,” Brenda said.
“He told me that he had helped a lot of people and he would do the same for me. He said he’s gonna help me because we’re from the same country. He told me what to bring in, my birth certificate, my I-94…I told him I had an extension because I had an emergency surgery…he told me to bring whatever I had, a valid passport, all of that. He did not tell me he was a lawyer or not…his office was set up just like any law office. He promised me that he would help me change my immigrant status, and now I am in the dark,” she cried bitterly as she shared her disappointment.
According to Kathy and Brenda, Louison charges $500 for “immigration consultation.” In New York City, most licensed lawyers charge $100 for an initial consultation. Some even offer free consultation. The women said that Louison had charged them additional fees for a service that only resulted in USCIS eventually rejecting their applications.
I contacted Louison seeking answers for the allegations two weeks before his arrest, and he responded:
“I am not aware of anyone who was told by USCIS that they committed or submitted any fraudulent applications. Every individual case has its own issues. When people don’t succeed in the process they look to blame someone for the status they created. There are also lawyers who are looking to take advantage of many people by making them think that someone else is responsible for their illegal status and they can help them by charging them enormous sums of money.”
“I have helped thousands get legal status in this country and was never told by USCIS that I submitted any fraudulent documents. There are people who have serious criminal records and past violation issues and never tell the truth to me and they will also not tell the truth to you. Anyone who has ever sought my assistance knows exactly what they are doing. I have seen so many people who have been taken advantage of by churches, lawyers, family and friends. I try to help them in an honest and cheap way,” he said.
Brenda and Kathy were unaware that a non-lawyer cannot give legal advice in New York State. Louison also appeared to believe that he did nothing wrong giving legal advice.
“No one can ever say I misrepresented myself as a lawyer. I have a very good immigration lawyer I refer people to all the time if they need assistance that requires a lawyer. GIVING ANY ADVICE IS NOT ILLEGAL IN THIS COUNTRY,” he said.
The New York state penal code, however, clearly states that giving legal advice without a license as a lawyer is illegal. New York State has Immigration Fraud Enforcement Statutes which include nine Penal Law Sections that can be used to prosecute potential fraudsters:
155.05: Larceny by False Promise & Larceny by Extortion
155.25: Petit Larceny
§ 155.30 – 155.42: Grand Larceny
§ 170.20 – 170.35: Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument
§ 170.00 – 170.15: Forgery
§ 175.30 – 175.35: Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree
§ 190.60 – 190.65: Scheme to Defraud
§ 190.87 – 190.89: Immigrant Assistance Services Fraud
195.05: Obstructing Governmental Administration
According to NY Penal Law §190.89:
“A person is guilty of Immigrant Assistance Services Fraud in the first degree when, with intent to defraud another person seeking immigrant assistance services,…he or she violates section four hundred sixty-d of the General Business Law with intent to obtain property from such other person by false or fraudulent pretenses, representations or promises, and thereby wrongfully obtains such property with a value in excess of one thousand dollars. Immigrant Assistance Services Fraud in the first degree is a class E felony.”
Brenda and Kathy had already reported Louison to the Immigration Unit of the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office, which did not act on the tips they provided to stop Louison from defrauding other unsuspecting victims. They both urged other immigrants to beware of impostors who dress and talk like lawyers without a license to practice law.
“Fear of Trump’s anti-immigrant and racist immigration policy is forcing both documented and undocumented immigrants to take unnecessary risks and desperately reach out to non-lawyers and notaries that defraud them. Immigrants must seek legal advice from a licensed lawyer. They should ask for credentials if they are unsure. If you believe you have been a victim of immigration fraud, seek the advice of an experienced immigration attorney in deportation and immigration fraud matters. You may also be entitled to a U-visa as an immigration fraud victim. Law enforcement agencies have to step up their game to bring those who prey on our vulnerable communities to justice,” said Brian Figeroux, a veteran Brooklyn lawyer and member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA).
“People in desperate situations make bad decisions, and this is amplified by the Trump administration,” added Figeroux. He also advised that one should not speak with immigration authorities unless they consulted with an attorney first.