TULARE COUNTY, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) — Detectives are looking for a woman accused of scamming immigrants out of thousands of dollars.
According to the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office, 59-year-old Micallea Aguilera Coleman of Lindsay posed as an immigration attorney, promising victims a path to citizenship.
Sgt. Demecio Holguin said in one case, a man lost $30,000.
“She promised him to purchase land in another state, also promised to help him with citizenship,” Holguin explained.
Sgt. Holguin said between September 2021 and May 2022, Coleman promised to help other immigrants in Tulare County obtain U.S citizenship or a visa. After getting the money, she would disappear.
The Sheriff’s Office said Coleman was issued a cease-and-desist notice from the State Bar of California for unauthorized practice of law. Investigators also learned there were similar cases of fraud in Porterville and Lindsay involving Coleman.
A Porterville woman who asked to remain anonymous said her husband fell victim to the alleged scam in 2015.
“He would get paid and he would save it to pay her,” she said, adding her husband paid Coleman a total of $3,000 over the course of a month.
The woman said they met Coleman at church.
“It’s sad that she had to come to the Valley and especially to the church because she likes going to the church,” she said.
“She’s always introduced to these families by a friend of a friend of a friend,” said Sgt. Holguin.
Officials from the Sheriff’s Office said Coleman has prior convictions of theft by false pretense, forgery, check fraud, welfare fraud, grand theft and burglary; there are cases dating back to the late 90s.
Detectives are looking to talk to other potential victims.
“We don’t care what their citizenship is, what their status is. If they are a victim of a crime, we want them to reach out to us,” said Sgt. Holguin.
Anyone who has been a victim of fraud involving Coleman, is asked to contact the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office at (559) 733-6218.
Immigration attorneys advise people to be wary of those who promise too much.
“No attorney can guarantee an outcome of a case, and that’s because we are not the judge — if you’re in immigration court — and we’re also not the immigration officers,” said Linda Barreto, professor of immigration law and director of the New American Legal Clinic at San Joaquin College of Law.
When seeking legal advice, Barreto also suggests getting a second opinion to compare pricing. And if someone says they filed paperwork for you, they should provide a government-issued receipt notice.
“And with that receipt notice, there’s a number that you can type in the USCIS website that allows you to track the progress of your case,” Barreto said. “Many times when people have been scammed they are not given a receipt because nothing was ever filed with immigration.”
The State Bar of California provides these tips to avoid fraud:
- Be wary if someone requires cash payments.
- Keep a paper trail. If you don’t have a bank account, use a cashier’s check.
- Check the State Bar’s website for a list of people who have received cease and desist notices, which warn non-attorneys that certain of their practices may violate the law.
- Check the federal list of those not authorized to practice immigration law.
- Be wary if they charge you for forms or require you to pay before they do the promised work. For example, you can download most U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services forms (USCIS) for free. Immigration consultants can deceive you by charging you extra fees, saying that they know someone at the USCIS who can quickly process your documents.
- Never sign blank documents or forms that have false information. If an immigration consultant asks you to do this, ask for your paperwork back and find another immigration consultant.
- If you have already made a payment, you are entitled to ask for an accounting of your bills.
In addition, several organizations in the Central Valley offer immigration services for free.