Santa Clara County sheriff’s deputies have arrested a man accused of running a fraudulent immigration assistance service that duped an estimated 1,000 people, who were seeking help, but instead lost money and possibly their chance to stay in the United States.
Neighbors in a Campbell business park on La Pradera Drive said that until recently the office of James Lopez was constantly filled with clients. But that stopped when investigators arrested the disbarred attorney, who was operating an illegal consulting service without state approval, several weeks ago.
“It appeared he was also forging documents, just based on the evidence,” said Lt. Elbert Rivera, a fraud unit leader with the sheriff’s office.
The business advertised itself as a place to help immigrants, but Lopez may have actually been targeting them, investigators believe. He is suspected of proving improper service to about 1,000 clients and counting, while charging each of them about $1,200, they said.
“He was charging fees for services in regards to immigration paperwork … which don't require any fees,” Rivera said.
Community activists believe immigrants are so scared after Donald Trump was elected president that it’s made them more vulnerable to scams.
"They all relate to racism,” said Cesar Juarez, an ethnic studies teacher at Downtown College Prep in San Jose.
Juarez said the Nov. 8 election has immigrants desperately searching for aid, all while trying to stay in the shadows.
“I hear from my students, ‘Mr. Juarez, what's going to happen to my parents if Trump gets elected? They're undocumented,’” Juarez said. “So they're seeking support. They're seeking services."
Juarez said immigrant families should seek businesses with approval from the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
“That's my biggest fear – that my community will be victims of fraud, and victims of bad advice,” Juarez admitted.
The sheriff's office said it announced the arrest on Friday because officials are hoping more of Lopez’s clients will come forward. Lopez, meanwhile, is expected to be in court on Nov. 28, where he will be held accountable for several felony charges, including forgery, grand theft and practicing law without a license.