[su_slider source=”media: 32041,32042,32043,32044,32045,32046,32047″ limit=”40″ link=”image” target=”blank” width=”700″ height=”460″ autoplay=”0″ speed=”500″][su_slider source=”media: 29856,29857″ limit=”30″ link=”image” target=”blank” width=”700″ height=”460″ autoplay=”0″ speed=”500″][su_menu][/su_slider]
Leonard Lacayo—a San Francisco public notary and outspoken Latino Trump supporter who has provided unlicensed legal services to many undocumented immigrants over the past three decades—has been ordered to halt his “unlawful” practices after a civil lawsuit alleging fraud was filed against his company.
San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera filed a complaint on Aug. 15 against Lacayo & Associates, alleging that Lacayo and his mother, Ada Lacayo, offered unlawful immigration consulting, providing “incompetent services while robbing clients of thousands of dollars.” It also alleged that Lacayo had wrongfully presented himself as a lawyer to his clients.
San Francisco Superior Court Judge Harold Kahn signed the order for a preliminary injunction on Oct. 11, in effect barring the 64-year-old Lacayo from providing any legal services.
“San Francisco has had a long history…starting from Walter Pineda to [Martin] Guajardo, and Lacayo, for many years, taking advantage of our community,” said Maria Victoria Castro, executive Director of La Raza Centro Legal, whose organization is helping one of Lacayo’s alleged victims.
According to the six declarations in the complaint, Lacayo’s clients—believing he was a licensed attorney—paid him fees to perform legal services, ranging from green card renewals and DACA applications to citizenship and asylum applications. Those listed in the complaint say they never received proper services from Lacayo for the money they paid him, and eventually discovered that he wasn’t a lawyer.
But Lacayo—who says he’s been in business for 33 years—claims those allegations are false, that he never took money for immigration services and that those behind the lawsuit are spreading lies and are just “out to ruin people’s lives.”
“Everything was legal,” Lacayo told El Tecolote, insisting that he had never given out legal advice of any kind, and that he referred clients seeking legal help to licensed lawyers. Several receipts included in the complaint show otherwise.
“That is not consistent with the many victims that we have interviewed, including the six that submitted declarations in support of our motion,” said Deputy City Attorney Natalie Orr. “All of whom say that they met with Lacayo himself. That he presented himself as a lawyer, or implied that he was a lawyer. He’s the one who advised them about what immigration benefits they were eligible for.”
Lacayo also suggested the lawsuit was politically motivated because he’s a Republican and an ardent Trump supporter.
“I have an agreement with the Trump campaign,” said Lacayo, claiming that the media has taken Trump’s words against immigrants out of context. “He’s saying, ‘If you’re a criminal, drug dealer, rapist, you have go.’”
Lacayo said he supports a pathway toward citizenship for law-abiding undocumented immigrants.
“That’s my goal: to legalize every Latino we can.”
When asked to respond to Lacayo’s claim, Orr said, “I don’t know what to say to that. That had nothing to do with our investigation.”
One of Lacayo’s former clients, a Salvadoran immigrant named in the lawsuit who has requested anonymity, is now receiving legal counsel from La Raza Centro Legal immigration attorney Amanda Alvarado Ford.
According to Ford, her client, fleeing from an abusive husband, sought services from Lacayo sometime between 2012 and 2014, believing he was a lawyer,
Lacayo filed an asylum application for her, even though he wasn’t well-versed in asylum law, according to Ford.
When Lacayo’s former client approached La Raza Centro Legal, she explained she was fearful over her situation, that she had paid him about $1,500, and that she had a feeling she had been defrauded.
“Unfortunately, her feelings were true,” Ford said. “My client, at the time Mr. Lacayo submitted her asylum application, she was at a real risk of being deported.”
The law changed, however, with the decision in Matter of A-R-C-G, a case that gave women, who are victims of domestic violence and who are in married relationships with their abusers, the opportunity to be granted asylum. After seeking assistance from La Raza Centro Legal, Ford’s client was approved for asylum in Dec. of 2015.
“This is an instance of a predatory notario,” Ford said. “And it’s really unfortunate because our community is very vulnerable. They want nothing more than to live here with status, with some sort of pathway to citizenship, or at least with employment authorization.”
The preliminary injunction also called for Lacayo to remove the misleading advertising from his building, which Lacayo has done. The left side of his office building for years read “Law offices of Michelle L Alvarez,” but Michelle L Alvarez’s name was removed sometime after 2014, leaving it to read “Law offices of Lacayo,” which the lawsuit claims misled clients. Some of Lacayo’s former clients also said that Lacayo told them he was a lawyer.
In California, only licensed attorneys in one of the 50 states and accredited representatives from the Board of Immigration Appeals can provide legal immigration advice to clients; Lacayo is neither.
“Unfortunately, he’s not qualified to give immigration advice,” Ford said, urging undocumented people seeking immigration advice to consult community organizations like La Raza Centro Legal, Dolores Community Services or Central American Resource Center (CARECEN).
But Lacayo maintains that he is innocent. He called Herrera a liar who “doesn’t know anything about Latinos.”
“They sued my 90-year-old mother,” said Lacayo. “Every negative word is fake. They are fakers of the worst kind.”
He also labeled organizations such as La Raza Centro Legal and CARECEN as “shakedown operations.”
“They don’t help Latinos,” Lacayo said. “They rob them blind.”
Lacayo claims he’s a fifth generation San Franciscan, who can trace his ancestry back to 1769 Spanish California. He traveled to Nicaragua as a young man, where he spent 10 years being educated and running refugee centers during the civil war. He said he returned to San Francisco in 1983-84, eventually starting his business a short time later.
Though no longer practicing immigration services, he continues his tax and notary services.
Former Lacayo clients who have been victimized can call Deputy City Attorneys Natalie Orr’s office at: 415-355-3270.
Those looking for legal assistance can call the Lawyer Referral & Information Service and ask for Antonio Hernandez at: 415-989-1616.