By Jeremy Walsh
The Jackson Heights woman who allegedly defrauded more than three dozen immigrant families to the tune of over $300,000 has been ordered to repay the money and pay millions more in penalties, state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said Monday.
Miriam Mercedes Hernandez, 56, must pay back the money she took from 37 immigrants over the course of a decade of promising to help them with citizenship and naturalization issues, plus $2.8 million for practicing law without a license and lying about her connections with immigration officials and politicians, Cuomo’s office said.
A state Supreme Court-appointed special referee also ruled Hernandez’s Jackson Heights condominium must be sold to pay the fines.
“The court’s decision gives full restitution to victims who trusted this person to help them and in the end were left with little more than lies and false promises,” Cuomo said in a statement. “The victims in this case had the courage to come forward and help prevent more innocent people from falling prey to this fraud. My office will continue to investigate anyone who seeks to exploit and defraud immigrants.”
Hernandez wrongly claimed she could speed up the process of obtaining legal resident status for people through her alleged relationships with government officials, Cuomo’s office said. Hernandez charged a $7,500 initial fee and up to $15,000 per person and demanded clients refer two other people to her before she would start providing services, the office said.
When the services did not materialize and victims requested a refund, Hernandez threatened them and refused to return their money or their documents, Cuomo said. Hernandez is also permanently restricted from directly or indirectly engaging in the business of immigration services.
Cuomo filed the suit last year after Hernandez invoked her Fifth Amendment right to avoid potentially self-incriminating testimony at a hearing on the case.
“We were very pleased to see Attorney General Cuomo file this important case and are truly gratified to see the results of his efforts,” Angela Fernandez, executive director of the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights, said in a statement.
Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4564.