Stockton attorney Yelen Dorothea Brooks plead guilty to 15 felony counts of grand theft Monday.
The California Attorney General's office says Brooks defrauded immigrant clients seeking citizenship. Brooks entered a guilty plea in San Joaquin County Superior Court for an expected five year split sentence to be served locally.
Under terms of the plea agreement, Brooks agreed to pay $371, 707 in restitution to victims.
She operated an immigration law practice from 2003 to 2017.
The AG's office says she "repeatedly misled victims about the status of their cases and lied about paperwork she had submitted while continuing to collect their money."
Brooks was disbarred in March 2015 by the Kansas State Bar where she initially had been licensed to practice law, according to the AG's office.
"Charley" and "Anna" as we will call them are married and originally from Mexico.
Charley is a legal citizen, Anna is not and is seeking a green card to gain legal status for herself and her 10-year-old boy.
“Well it’s very important to me too because I come here because I want to get a better life for me and for my son," says Anna.
They wanted their identities concealed since Anna is not legal, but going through the process with help from Latino based social services and non-profit agency El Concillio of Stockton.
“For me it’s really important because it’s my goal to help her to be legal and to get a better job and we can stay together," says Charley.
Both Charley and his wife say they heard the stories of immigrants getting ripped off for help filing legal documents.
In fact, Anna says her brother was taken for $5,000.
“I mean people are scared, especially at this time," says Charley.
El Concillio says unfortunately way too often the fears of immigrants are preyed on and taken advantage of for thousands of dollars.
“We see them victimized by professionals people who are unscrupulous because they think that these folks don’t know what their remedies are or where they can go to get help," says El Concillio President & CEO Jose Rodriguez.
Rodriguez says there are a number of things people should do to prevent getting conned:
- Seek out a non-profit agency like El Concillio or Catholic Charities that specialize in low cost legal help.
- Before you hire an attorney, and this goes for any legal case, check with the state bar website for the status of the attorney.
- Make sure the attorney has no complaints of misconduct.
- Use “word of mouth” or contact the county bar association where you live for an attorney referral.
And Rodriguez says there are several “red flags” to watch out for including:
- If the attorney moves from his or her office, but doesn't inform you of the move.
- Charges more money for work still not completed or agreed to in the first place.
- The attorney suddenly stops returning phone calls.
Rodriguez says the state attorney general is taking into account the concerns.
“We saw last year, the state of California, addressed and passed some laws for example, notary publics, have to have signs up that say they’re not immigration attorneys and they have to have a special bond if they are going to be doing immigration work," says Rodriguez.
Charley and Anna came forward to share their story in the hopes others will be cautious in seeking legal immigration help, too.
“I want to stay here and do my life with my husband and with our sons and that’s what I want," says Anna.
The office also says she continued her "fraudulent law practice in the state of California without disclosing that she was no longer an attorney."
Jose Rodriguez, president and CEO of Latino social services and non-profit provider El Concillio, says he hears about cases like this one "way too often."
"We see them victimized by professionals and people who are unscrupulous because I think these folks don't know what the remedies are or where they can go to get help," said Rodriguez.