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'Notario' pleads guilty to tax evasion, illegal law practice

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A Marion Superior judge has sentenced an Indianapolis woman who offered illegal immigration services without a law license and evaded paying her income taxes through that business.

The Indiana attorney general’s office filed a criminal tax evasion 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. The non-attorney advertised herself to the Spanish-speaking community as a “notario” who can assist with immigration legal issues despite not having a law license, but that creates confusion with what’s known as a “notario publico” designation given to attorneys with specialized training.

That criminal tax-related legal maneuver is known as the “Al Capone approach,” because it was what brought down the infamous organized crime boss. That is separate from the civil action the AG filed in March against Barber for the unauthorized practice of law under the Deceptive Consumer Practices Act. The cases share the fact that Barber advertised herself to the Spanish-speaking community as someone who can assist with immigration issues and since 2006 she had allegedly done similar selection, preparation, and completion of U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services immigration forms for a fee. The suit against her mirrored one against another non-lawyer in Fort Wayne, which remains pending in Allen County.

On Monday, Barber pleaded guilty to criminal charges for her actions as a “notario” and received a one-year probation sentence for two Class D felony counts of income tax evasion and the Class B misdemeanor of the unauthorized practicing of law. She must perform 40 hours of community service, and she agrees she will no longer do any sort of immigration work, according to AG spokesman Bryan Corbin.

Corbin said Barber made a full allocution in open court that her actions were wrong and harmed people and weren’t just a mere technical violation of the law. If she stays out of trouble for six months, Barber can seek to have her felony record converted to misdemeanors.

After the sentencing, the AG’s office served Barber with a civil tax assessment notice stating that she owes the Indiana Department of Revenue $58,194.

A statement from the AG says, “The Consumer Protection Division’s message to the public is: Don't be misled. A ‘notario’ cannot give you legal advice on immigration or file your legal documents. Only a licensed attorney can do that.”

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