Case targets ‘predator’ immigration attorney

Desperate immigrants seeking legal help were allegedly preyed upon by a disgraced attorney who charged them illegal prices for shoddy representation that led to deportations, city officials said Monday.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera filed a lawsuit Wednesday calling Martin Guajardo a “notorious predator” who gave up his law license in 2008 after he was accused of charging high fees but not providing adequate counsel.

The 21-page civil complaint claims Guajardo has been preying on “desperate immigrants” for more than 35 years. After he was forced to retire from law two years ago, he allegedly started San Francisco-based Immigration Practice Group, using licensed attorney Christopher Stender as a “front” for the law firm.

After charging “exorbitant” fees, Guajardo did “little or nothing” on cases involving “desperate clients” who faced immediate deportation or had family members in custody, the lawsuit said.

In some cases, Guajardo made false promises to clients seeking citizenship knowing he could not win their case, Herrera said.

In cases that typically cost $6,000 to $10,000, he would charge some clients around $60,000, according to the civil complaint.

Meanwhile, the high-rolling “predator” drives a Rolls Royce and wears Armani suits, Herrera said.

“That fancy car and expensive suits that Mr. Guajardo has were all paid for with sweat and tears,” Supervisor David Campos said. “He found people when they were at their most vulnerable.”

Guajardo’s alleged victims have varied backgrounds and include Hispanics, Russians and Indians in San Francisco.

Herrera’s lawsuit seeks to halt Immigration Practice Group from continuing to do business. He hopes the District Attorney’s Office will use the lawsuit to file criminal charges against Guajardo and Stender.

In conjunction with The City’s legal action, a separate firm filed a class-action lawsuit seeking restitution for victims.

Anyone who may have been a victim of Guajardo or his firm are encouraged to call (415) 773-4266, city officials said.

maldax@sfexaminer.com

Bay Area NewsCrimeCrime & CourtsDennis HerreraLocalSan Francisco

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