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Legal Ethics

Suspicious Lawyer Reported Law Firm; One Counsel Arrested During Bar Exam

Posted Jul 30, 2009 10:23 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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The investigation of a Salt Lake City law firm charged with visa fraud may have begun when a suspicious lawyer tipped off the U.S. attorney.

Lance Starr says he spotted a problem when two employees of the Alcala Law Firm asked him to review their applications to legalize their residency in the United States, the Salt Lake Tribune reports. Name partner James Hector Alcala had prepared the documents, but they were rejected by the government.

Starr had briefly worked for the firm in 2006, and he knew that one of the employees was in Utah during the time an application document asserted he had been working in Mexico. Starr suspected that the letter, supposedly verifying the Mexican work, was forged, the story says. Starr believed he was ethically obligated to report what he found, so he called the federal prosecutor.

A federal indictment unsealed Tuesday charges the Alcala Law Firm, principal James Alcala, two of his partners and five employees with visa fraud, alien smuggling and conspiracy. Investigators believe a majority of the 5,000 work visas obtained by the law firm for temporary foreign workers are fraudulent.

Among those charged are two men who described themselves as in-house counsel for the law firm: Carlos Enrique Gomez-Alvarez and Daniel Trigo Villavicencio. Gomez- Alvarez was arrested while taking the New York bar exam in Buffalo, according to the story.

The H-2B visa program for temporary foreign workers requires employers to show that foreign employees for whom they are seeking visas are either in the country legally or living outside the United States for the last six months. Federal prosecutors allege the Alcala Law Firm coached employers to tell workers who are here illegally to go back to Mexico and to lie when asked if they had been here.

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