The most interesting RICO case in months is Guzman v. Hecht (S.D.N.Y.) in which a group of undocumented immigrants are suing the lawyers who they hired help them obtain legal status. The novelty of the case is not only the sheer temerity of immigrants suing lawyers in federal court (they are being very ably represented by a legal aid clinic at Cardozo Law School) but the moral ambiguity of their situation. Basically, they are themselves likely violating the law by working in this country without authorization but their lawyers, at least from the allegations, are worse.

The immigrants went to Thomas T. Hecht PC, a small law firm in New York City, which promised to help them obtain legal status and remain in this country in exchange for fees (the exact amount is unstated). The lawyers, Thomas and Leonard Hecht, told the clients they were eligible for lawful permanent residency (green cards) by virtue of having lived here for ten years. This false. Persons living here without lawful status cannot typically apply for L.P.R. status.

But unbeknownst to the immigrants, the Hechts actually tricked them into signing I-589 asylum applications, which were not read to them in their native Spanish. The problem is that asylum, must be sought within one year of entry to the U.S., unless the delay can be excused by something beyond the control of the applicant. No such excuse was provided, and the opinion makes it appear the Hechts not only did not explain to their clients what they were submitting to DHS on their behalf, but completed the application in a slipshod, hasty way. They are basically operating their law firm as an asylum mill churning out tons of these applications. In the Obama years such applications were apparently granted, or at least no harm came to the applicant. But now DHS takes a different view. Anyone applying for asylum while in the U.S. without lawful status is subject to removal (deportation). The immigrant clients were so informed, went to the immigration clinic at the law school, and the result is a RICO case against the lawyers predicated on asylum fraud, i.e., making false statements to DHS without their knowledge, which has damaged them.

The district judge denied the lawyers’ motion to dismiss, deciding every close question about pleading and causation in the plaintiffs’ favor. Rarely is visa fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1546, used as a RICO predicate act. And needless to say, rarely are lawyers sued, and even more rare is the case where their motions to dismiss is denied. But here, regardless of what one thinks of issues related to immigration, it seems deserved even though they omitted one big argument from their motion.