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AG files criminal UPL, tax evasion charges against ‘notario publico’

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Adding to what it has already done in targeting two “notario publicos” for illegally offering immigration services, the Indiana Attorney General’s Office has now filed a criminal Unauthorized Practice of Law charge and several tax evasion counts against one of those non-lawyers who was operating in Indianapolis.

The state attorney’s office announced the new criminal charges Thursday in the case against M. Esther Barber, also known as Maria Esther Tapia Cuevas, who was doing business as Asociacion Civica Mexicana De Indiana Inc. on Shelby Street in Indianapolis.

A civil action had been filed against her March 9 on allegations that she offered immigration-related services without being licensed or trained to do so, but criminal charges hadn’t immediately been attached to that. A search warrant of her business led to records being seized, and gave way to what’s materialized this week.

The civil suit alleges Barber advertised herself to the Spanish-speaking community as someone who can assist with immigration issues and since 2006 she’d allegedly done similar selection, preparation, and completion of immigration forms for a fee. The suit against her, similar to one filed against another non-lawyer in Fort Wayne, accused Barber of knowingly violating the Deceptive Consumer Sales Act by providing services without the required license and training.

As a result, she’s being charged now with a Class B misdemeanor for engaging in UPL – a count the state AG’s Office obtained permission from the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office to file. The count stems from Barber’s charging a client $1,200 to obtain legalization paperwork so that an immigrant could enter the country – something that a 2005 ruling by the Indiana Supreme Court specifically held could only be provided by a licensed attorney, not a notary public.

Since the AG’s office didn’t have any tax evasion counts relating to the Allen County notario case, any misdemeanor count of UPL there would have to stand on its own and that would be up to the Allen County Prosecutor’s Office to file rather than the state attorney’s office.

The UPL charge came on the same day the AG used the office’s limited criminal jurisdiction to charge Barber with 10 counts of state income tax evasion. A probable cause affidavit shows Barber advertised her business services in Spanish-language newspapers and over time received at least $56,768 for tasks such as preparing immigration forms, business formation, and liquor licensing applications, but she filed no state income tax returns between 2005 and 2009.

That tax-related legal maneuver is known as the “Al Capone approach,” as it brought down the infamous organized crime boss. The AG has used this approach three other times since late 2008 – on two commercial dog breeding operations and another cash-and-carry stereo business. Those three cases ended with guilty pleas and felony tax evasion convictions.

Barber appeared in court Thursday for an initial hearing, and the court set a $5,000 surety bond and required her to surrender her passport before being released. A pretrial conference is set for May 9 with a jury trial tentatively scheduled for Aug. 2. She faces up to six months in jail on the UPL misdemeanor charge and for each of the felonies, could see a sentence up to three years and fines up to $10,000.

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