Pasco man pleads innocent to bilking immigrants

Tri-City HeraldMarch 19, 2013 

— A Pasco man charged with taking money to do legal services for immigrants, but never doing the work, now faces a May 15 trial.

Jose Antonio Martinez, 53, pleaded innocent Tuesday in Franklin County Superior Court to four counts of unlawful practice of law and one count each of first-degree theft, second-degree extortion and first-degree criminal trespassing.

The criminal trespass charge and one of the unlawfully practicing counts are gross misdemeanors, while the rest are felonies.

Most of the charges involve multiple aggravating factors, including that victims were particularly vulnerable, that Martinez used his position of trust and that he “displayed an egregious lack of remorse.”

Martinez was arrested following a months-long investigation by Pasco police into claims that he was bilking people by taking their money for his help on immigration matters.

He is not qualified to offer legal advice, said Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant, who brought the charges to prevent more people from being exploited based on their immigration status.

A “notario” in other countries indicates the individual is an attorney, but that is not the case in the United States.

Martinez operated different store fronts in downtown Pasco, and collected “a substantial amount of money,” Sant said in a news release earlier this month.

He didn’t release specific dollar amounts, but court documents accuse Martinez of taking at least $5,000 from several victims.

Martinez threatened to call immigration authorities and have some of the people deported if they didn’t pay him for legal services, documents said.

The issue was reported to police last summer and, after looking back more than three years, investigators reportedly identified about 30 victims.

Other people allegedly swindled by Martinez can call the Pasco Police Department at 509-544-3080, ext. 6019.

Court documents also state that on Feb. 26, Martinez used an attorney’s access code to enter the Franklin County Courthouse building without security screening or permission.

A request Tuesday to lower Martinez’s $500,000 bail was denied by Judge Craig Matheson, who said it could be re-addressed at a later court hearing.

Sant cautions people who may be seeking legal advice that notarios, notary public, immigration consultants and businesses cannot give legal immigration advice in the United States.

People in this country with immigration matters should contact an attorney, an organization that employs an accredited representative of the Board of Immigration Appeals, or the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, he said.

The Northwest Immigrant Rights Project has a Granger office that can be reached at 509-854-2100.

Kristin M. Kraemer: 582-1531; kkraemer@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @KristinMKraemer

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