Manhattan man pretended to be a lawyer to scam immigrants: DA Bragg

The New York State Supreme Court Building in Manhattan, where Jose Espinoza was indicted on Tuesday.
The New York State Supreme Court Building in Manhattan, where Jose Espinoza was indicted on Tuesday.
Photo via Getty Images

A Manhattan man has been indicted for allegedly posing as an immigration attorney and scamming several immigrants out of thousands of dollars, according to District Attorney Alvin Bragg. 

Pablo Israel Ortega Cuenca was charged with grand larceny and several other felonies for perpetrating the alleged scheme, claiming he preyed on new arrivals by pretending he would help them gain American citizenship. 

“As alleged, New Yorkers looking to become permanent residents trusted Pablo Israel Ortega Cuenca to provide them with legal services, and he broke that trust by taking advantage of them and putting them at risk of deportation,” said Bragg in a statement. 

According to prosecutors, Cuenca carried out the scam between February 2017 and October 2019, when he took on several wannabe-citizens as clients during their immigration process, despite not having a license to practice law. 

In at least one case, which prosecutors uncovered during the investigation, Cuenca had his “client” submit a meritless asylum claim, which can be a crime if immigration enforcement agents deem the plea to be frivolous. 

In other instances, the 33-year-old suspect told victims that he had submitted applications on their behalf when he had not, and failed to tell individuals about court dates.

While several victims believed him to be their attorney, who was working in private practice, his lies were different with others — including when he told some individuals that he was an American government official working on immigration, and other times when he posed as an employee of the Spanish Consulate, prosecutors said. 

Throughout his two-and-a-half year scam, he collected at least $11,000 in legal fees from multiple people, the DA claims. 

He now faces two counts of first-degree unlawful immigrant assistance services; two counts of third-degree grand l; and first-degree scheme to defraud.

In announcing the indictment on Thursday, Bragg touted his office’s Immigrant Affairs Unit, which is designed specifically to help weed-out corruption and scams perpetrated against noncitizens, who often lack proper information about the judicial system in the United States. 

“If you believe you or someone you know has been a victim of this type of fraud, we urge you to call our office’s Immigration Affairs Unit hotline at 212-335-3600 or via WhatsApp at 347-371-0877. Interpreters are available to assist non-native English speakers and we encourage all to reach out regardless of immigration status,” Bragg said.