LOS ANGELES (AP) — Operating with virtual impunity in Los Angeles for years, con artists have long targeted immigrants desperate for expert legal advice, defrauding some of their life savings and only hastening deportations or other personal disasters.
But a fledgling fraud unit at the county district attorney’s office has been targeting such scammers since 2017, prosecuting eight cases that cheated at least 300 immigrants out of $3 million, prosecutors announced Tuesday.
Before the unit was formed, DA Jackie Lacey said not many such fraud cases were prosecuted in the county “because we didn’t have the resources and the training.”
“I think immune is exactly how they have felt,” said Ryann Jorban, one of two prosecutors office assigned to the Notario Fraud Unit, named for a Spanish word used interchangeably with “attorney.”
The con artists tell Spanish-speaking immigrants that they’re “notarios” and can help with their cases, collecting their money while telling them not to worry about important notices from the government.
“They’ll say, ‘We’ll take care of everything, so they miss appointments or they don’t pay their fees,” Jorban said.
Some victims have been deported as a result of the fraud, including so-called “Dreamers,” young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children who’ve been allowed to remain.
“Unfortunately these con artists know that not only will they give them everything they can to protect their families and themselves but they will also be afraid to report, so there will be no repercussions,” Jorban said.
The Notario unit’s most recent conviction, that of 49-year-old Romina Zadorian of Montebello involved 91 victims defrauded of $667,000 between 2014 and 2017.