A so-called “phony lawyer” is in hot water after allegedly providing legal advice to members of New York City’s Latino community – a role he apparently had no business taking part in. According to the New York State Attorney General’s Office, Vincent Gonzalez is accused of fraud and could face time in prison for allegedly “defrauding immigrants out of legal fees in at least 527 court appearances since 2010.” He could face steep fines totaling millions of dollars plus prison time if convicted, authorities added.
According to the state attorney general’s office, Gonzalez was in violation of a 2010 order that had him barred from providing any legal services. Operating as the Bronx-based “God-Man Society Club Inc,” the phony lawyer allegedly got back into the practice of offering legal advice to local immigrants despite the fact that he had no legal authorization to do so. Investigators note that a 2015 undercover investigation into the alleged behavior found that he was charging massive amounts for services. For example, the press release from the state attorney general’s office found he was billing for a $5,000 retainer, $3,000 for bail if arrested and $1,500 for investigative services. However, one of the potential victims “became skeptical” and stopped paying after an initial deposit of $650.
According to New York City-based lawyer Jeffrey Benjamin, it’s disturbing that someone would masquerade as an attorney and attempt to make a buck off the backs of people in need of legal guidance. New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman agrees: “It’s unconscionable that a scammer would prey on immigrants in order to make a quick buck — and it’s even more egregious to continue to do so in violation of a court order.” According to the press release, Gonzalez has been ordered to pay more than $6 million in civil penalties and could face six months in prison, as well.
As consumers’ rights lawyer Jeffrey Benjamin will tell you, it’s crucial to come to a trustworthy law professional when you need legal services. Mr. Benjamin, whose career has spanned favorable jury verdicts as a trial lawyer, landmark judgements and countless pleased clients, the above instance is discouraging. That’s because in Mr. Benjamin’s view, consumers need a resource to turn to when they suspect things aren’t adding up and that they could end up being the victim. With a track record that dates back to 1997 when Mr. Benjamin first began representing class action cases, those in the New York area who come to him with consumer fraud claims are bound to benefit.