A Pasco man has admitted taking money to perform legal services under the guise of being an immigration attorney.
Jose Antonio Martinez never did any actual work for the immigrants who came to him, and some ended up deported because of his "defective misrepresentations," said Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant.
Martinez, 54, pleaded guilty in Franklin County Superior Court to one count each of second-degree extortion and unlawful practice of law.
The plea came Wednesday as he was supposed to start a two- to three-week trial.
He originally was charged with four counts of unlawfully practicing law, along with first-degree theft and first-degree criminal trespassing. Most of the charges had involved aggravating factors, including that victims particularly were vulnerable, that Martinez used his position of trust and that he "displayed an egregious lack of remorse."
Martinez, who goes by Tony Martinez, was sentenced by Judge Vic VanderSchoor to 364 days in jail -- the maximum possible sentence for the unlawful practice of law.
The standard range for extortion is one to three months.
Martinez didn't have any felony convictions before this case. He was released from the Franklin County jail later Wednesday because he had credit for time served.
Martinez was arrested in March 2013 following a monthslong investigation by Pasco police into claims that he was bilking people by taking their money for his help on immigration matters.
Martinez was not qualified to offer legal advice. A notario in other countries indicates the individual is an attorney, but that is not the case in the United States.
Sant said he brought the charges to prevent more people from being exploited based on their immigration status.
Martinez operated different storefronts in downtown Pasco, and collected "a substantial amount of money," Sant said after Martinez's arrest. Court documents accused 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 in the summer of 2013 and, after looking back more than three years, investigators reportedly identified about 30 victims.
The criminal trespass charge, which was dropped in the plea deal, was because Martinez allegedly used an attorney's access code in February 2013 to enter the Franklin County Courthouse building without security screening or permission.
A restitution hearing will be scheduled with the court so victims can attempt to seek reimbursement for their losses.
The Franklin County Prosecutor's Office continues to work with victims who have cooperated throughout the law enforcement investigation, Sant said.
"We are working with immigration attorneys who are assisting these victims who thought they were following the legal process," he said in a news release.
He thanked the Pasco Police Department and attorney Jacqueline Shea-Brown for their work in collecting thousands of documents and other pieces of evidence, and the victims "who trusted law enforcement to bring these charges to our attention."
Sant has cautioned people who may be seeking legal advice that notarios, notary publics, 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.
The Northwest Immigrant Rights Project has a Granger office serving the Mid-Columbia. It can be reached at 509-854-2100 or 888-756-3641.
-- Kristin M. Kraemer: 509-582-1531; email@example.com; Twitter: @KristinMKraemer