By Daniel Wiessner
(Reuters) - Two of the largest non-profit immigration service groups in the United States will shut down as part of a settlement of a lawsuit that accused them of defrauding thousands of clients, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said on Monday.
The International Professional Association will close immediately and the International Immigrants Foundation within two years, Schneiderman said. Their remaining assets of $2.2 million would be used to provide restitution to clients.
Schneiderman's predecessor, now-Governor Andrew Cuomo, filed a lawsuit in 2010 against the groups and their president, Edward Juarez, who for three decades has been a nationally recognized expert on immigration issues.
Cuomo said the groups charged exorbitant fees for services including securing work permits and residency and that their workers falsely claimed to be lawyers. Juarez was accused of using the money to fund a lavish lifestyle and provide jobs for his former wife and children.
"Organizations like IIF and IPA prey upon vulnerable individuals who seek a better life in this country," Schneiderman said in a statement.
Juarez said in a statement that the groups' cases were handled only by licensed attorneys. He added that he never faced criminal charges and did not have to admit wrongdoing as part of the settlement.
"The ultimate loser(s) were the immigrants themselves," he said.
The settlement is the latest setback for Juarez, who was a radio host and columnist for the Spanish-language newspaper El Diario prior to the 2010 suit.
The IIF and IPA, according to the suit, advertised their services as being free or inexpensive. But people who signed up had to make monthly payments and pay thousands of dollars in fees for different types of services.
Juarez and his workers then gave clients poor advice, including suggesting immigrants enter sham marriages to gain citizenship, or failed to file paperwork properly, according to the suit.
The case is Cuomo v. International Immigrants Foundation, New York State Supreme Court, New York County, No. 400143-2010.
(Reporting by Daniel Wiessner; Editing by Ted Botha, Dan Grebler and Paul Simao)