The Texas Attorney General’s Office has agreed to a judgment and permanent injunction against a former disbarred immigration attorney, Paul A. Esquivel, his former associate attorney, Juan Carlos Penaflor, and former office manager, Olvia Martinez.
This final judgment, entered by the Court on June 21st in Bexar County, stems from a lawsuit filed by the Attorney General’s Office against Defendants in September 2015.
The State alleged that Esquivel, who has offices in San Antonio, Dallas and Austin, and those employed under him, charged consumers thousands of dollars to file asylum applications on their behalf, even though they did not qualify for asylum.
According to the lawsuit, Esquivel promised consumers a path to U.S. citizenship through his “Asylum Program”, even though Esquivel knew the consumer was not eligible for asylum and filing as such resulted in removal proceedings that would not have occurred otherwise.
These consumers had other possible options to citizenship, but Esquivel ignored those options and submitted asylum applications on their behalf, in most cases without their knowledge. Furthermore, Esquivel failed to disclose the risk of deportation when applying for asylum, as well as possible irreparable harm to their immigration cases by filing such paperwork.
For example, one client, who is married to a U.S. citizen, hired Esquivel to process his legal status based on his wife’s status, but this client was led to believe his only option was to file an application for asylum. Esquivel failed to inform this client that putting false information on an asylum application may subject them to civil and criminal penalties, and that knowingly filing a frivolous application could make the applicant permanently ineligible for citizenship.
Esquivel is now permanently banned from being involved in any immigration-related matter and is required to pay $750,000 in civil penalties.
“[Esquivel] shall be permanently enjoined from engaging in…Advertising via print, billboard, Internet, social media, word of mouth, or through any other means that they provide immigration services,” the judgment said.
Pinaflore and Martinez were also held accountable for their part in these deceptive practices.
According to investigators, Esquivel knowingly sold his law firms to his office manager Martinez, who is not an attorney. Martinez renamed the firms JCP Law Firm and Associates, PLLC and JCP Law Office, PC. Under the Texas Business Organizations Code, Martinez is prohibited from owning a professional entity unless she is a professional, an attorney, in this case.
To circumvent the law, Penaflor said he was the representing attorney for JCP law firms, which was inherently misleading. The judgment stated that JCP law forms cannot advertise that they are owned by an attorney unless such is the case.
The judgment also ordered Penaflor, who falsely claimed he purchased Esquivel’s firms, to take the necessary steps to withdraw all asylum applications filed by Esquivel on a pro bono basis and refund consumers all monies paid to Esquivel on or after June 1, 2015. He must also provide Esquivel’s former clients copies of their files without cost to the clients.
Furthermore, Martinez and Pinaflore must “continue to maintain a legal ethics compliance and training program designed to inform their program designed to inform their employees of their respective duties within the firms, their ethical duties and responsibilities to clients and of the firms’ policies and practices.”
The Attorney General’s lawsuit is seeking a temporary and permanent injunction against Esquivel, Pinaflore and Martinez, with civil penalties of up to $20,000 per violation.