By Nina Martin, New America Media
SAN FRANCISCO—The San Francisco city attorney’s office has filed suit against a disbarred immigration lawyer who allegedly cheated tens of thousands of clients over the past 35 years. The scams allegedly continued even after the attorney, Martin Resendez Guajardo, was forced to give up practicing law in 2008.
In the suit, City Attorney Dennis Herrara called Guajardo "one of San Francisco's most notorious predators” who defrauded clients out of millions of dollars while doing little or nothing to advance their immigration cases. In fact, a number of his victims have been deported or are in immigration custody.
"Martin Guajardo has made a career of preying on the vulnerable, robbing countless immigrants of their assets, their families, and their hopes to share in the American dream," Herrera said.
Mark Silverman, director of immigration policy at the Immigration Legal Resource Center, called the lawsuit “historic.” “San Francisco is providing leadership for the country by going after abusive predators," he said.
Guajardo’s victims included immigrants of every ethnicity, who were taken in by his savvy marketing. They paid as much as $95,000 for him to handle cases for which other immigration attorneys charged one-tenth the price.
Yet Guajardo had numerous of ethics complaints filed against him over the decades. His license was suspended twice in the 1990s and, facing serious discipline charges, he finally resigned from the State Bar of California in 2008 and agreed never again to practice law.
But over the last two years, Guajardo has continued to operate out of his offices at 555 Clay Street using the law license of Christopher Stender, a San Diego-based attorney, who is also named in the lawsuit.
Anoop Preshad, an attorney at the Asian Law Caucus, said the Guajardo was able to continue scamming victims for more than three decades because immigrants are wary of coming forward. “The clients are scared of talking to the government,” Preshad said.
"Martin Guajardo may be the worst offender, but he's a cautionary reminder that there are others like him who similarly prey on immigrants and their families," San Francisco Supervisor David Campos said in a statement. "As important as this lawsuit is to stop Mr. Guajardo from causing further harm, it's equally important that the immigrant community here in San Francisco be fully informed about the community based organizations and reputable law firms that can represent their interests effectively and honestly.”
A separate class-action lawsuit was also filed on Wednesday, seeking to recoup money on behalf of all Guajardo’s victims and their families. The law firm handling the suit, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, has established a telephone number with multilingual contacts for victims and their families. That number is (415) 773-4266.
The city attorney’s office has scheduled a free legal clinic for people who believe they have been the victim of immigration fraud at the hands of Guajardo, Stender, and their firm on Dec. 1, from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Hastings College of the Law, 200 McAllister Street in San Francisco. —Nina Martin