ST. PAUL, Minn. - The Minnesota Attorney General's Office has filed a lawsuit against against a woman and her companies for allegedly posing as an attorney and charging immigrants thousands of dollars for legal work on immigration matters that she was not authorized to perform.
The lawsuit was filed against American Group US, Inc., The Legacy Firm Corporation, and Ornella Hammerschmidt of Shakopee.
"This is an example of someone exploiting the complexity and cost of the legal process to their own advantage and to the detriment of others," said Attorney General Lori Swanson.
Swanson says the defendants charged Spanish-speaking immigrants with limited English language proficiency as much as $12,000 for legal work on immigration matters. The legal work included assistance on applications for citizenship, asylum, and other immigration matters. The Attorney General's Office maintains that Hammerschmidt is not an attorney but represented herself one and held her companies out as being capable of providing immigration legal services.
The company often gave consumers a business card or other paperwork calling Ms. Hammerschmidt an "International Attorney."
The lawsuit alleges that Hammerschmidt and her companies:
- Charged impoverished immigrants thousands of dollars in fees for immigration-related legal services they weren't legally authorized to perform under state or federal law.
- Held Ms. Hammerschmidt out as an attorney and held themselves out as being qualified and able to provide legal advice on immigration matters.
- Provided legal advice to clients that they did not have the legal authority or expertise to provide, such as advice about the steps the client should pursue in an immigration proceeding.
- Took money from clients for services that were not provided or that were delayed for lengthy periods of time.
- In some cases, falsified signatures on immigration filings or prepared paperwork with wrong information.
The lawsuit alleges violations of the state's immigration services law, unauthorized practice of law statute, and consumer protection laws. It seeks an injunction to prevent further harm and restitution for consumers, among other remedies.