Police have arrested a Pasco man on suspicion of bilking immigrants by taking money to provide legal help on immigration matters and not doing the work.
Jose Antonio Martinez, 53, who goes by Tony Martinez, also is accused of not being qualified to offer legal advice, according to Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant.
He has been charged with four counts of unlawful practice of law, first-degree theft, second-degree extortion and criminal trespass, Sant said.
Martinez is being held in the Franklin County jail on $500,000 bail. Arraignment is set for March 19.
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Martinez operated different store fronts in downtown Pasco, and collected "a substantial amount of money," although it's too early in the legal process to release specific dollar amounts, Sant said. Court documents accuse him of the theft of at least $5,000 from several victims.
An investigation covering the past three years has found about 30 suspected victims, Sant said. The issue was reported in summer 2012 and the investigation grew as other potential victims were identified.
With Martinez charged, Sant expects more victims to come forward. They may call the Pasco Police Department at 509-544-3080, ext. 6019.
Most of the charges against Martinez involved aggravating factors, including that victims were particularly vulnerable, according to court documents. They may not have wanted to report Martinez to law enforcement if they needed immigration help.
"We try to help people and keep them from being exploited based on their immigration status," Sant said.
The criminal trespass charge stems from a Feb. 26 incident in which Martinez is accused of using an attorney's access code to enter the Franklin County Courthouse building without security screening or permission, according to court documents.
Notarios, notary public, immigration consultants and businesses cannot give legal immigration advice in the United States, Sant said. In other countries, the word "notario" indicates the individual is an attorney, but that is not true in the United States.
People who need help with immigration matters in the United States should contact an attorney, an organization that employs an accredited representative of the Board of Immigration Appeals, or the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Sant said. The Northwest Immigrant Rights Project has a Granger office that may be reached at 509-854-2100.
-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; firstname.lastname@example.org