Faith groups and labor leaders launched a telephone hotline in the Sacramento area to report activity by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. Ryan Lillis The Sacramento Bee
Faith groups and labor leaders launched a telephone hotline in the Sacramento area to report activity by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. Ryan Lillis The Sacramento Bee

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Stockton lawyer pleads guilty to conning immigrants out of more than $370,000

By Stephen Magagnini

smagagnini@sacbee.com

December 04, 2017 06:18 PM

UPDATED December 06, 2017 09:11 AM

Stockton-based immigration lawyer Yehlen “Mary” Dorothea Brooks has pleaded guilty to 15 counts of grand theft for defrauding dozens of immigrants seeking citizenship, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced Monday.

In return for a guilty plea offered in San Joaquin County Superior Court, she is expected to receive a five-year split sentence to be served locally. The plea agreement also requires her to pay $371,709 in restitution to the victims, which could number more than 100, the attorney general’s office said.

Brooks, 53, was licensed by the Kansas State Bar until she was disbarred in March 2015, according to the attorney general’s office. Despite losing her license, Brooks continued to offer her legal services in the Stockton area without disclosing she was no longer an attorney.

“This is a cruel case in which a scam artist exploited hard-working immigrants to benefit her own pocket,” Becerra said Monday in a statement. “The California Department of Justice has zero tolerance for those who prey on and defraud families in need of legal help. Criminals like Brooks ruin lives and tear families apart – and they will be held accountable.”

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Brooks, of Manteca, operated in Stockton from 2003 to 2017, targeting immigrant clients from places such as Latin America and India. Charging them between $3,000 and $16,000, “she repeatedly misled victims about the status of their cases and lied about paperwork she had submitted while continuing to collect their money,” the attorney’s general office said in a statement. “Some victims who trusted her with every last dollar were detained and deported.”

According to the felony complaint filed against Brooks, one case involved Rosario Flores and his common-law wife, Marcela Lopez. The two met with Brooks in November 2014 while seeking legal status for Flores. Their daughter had brain cancer, and they wanted to take her to Mexico to meet her grandfather.

By April 2015, Brooks had collected $12,000 from the couple and led them to believe that Flores would receive legal status so they could travel as a family to Mexico. Their daughter died in August 2015. When the couple met with another immigration attorney in January 2016, they learned Brooks had been disbarred.

The felony complaint also details cases of people seeking work permits and asylum. Most of Brooks’ clients lived in San Joaquin County, although others came from throughout the Central Valley.

By May 2016, the state of Kansas had documented 68 claims against Brooks alleging she used deception to obtain money from California clients. “The vast majority of the complaints alleged Brooks consistently advised clients that she was filing paperwork on behalf of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, but nothing was actually filed,” according to the declaration in support of the arrest warrant for Brooks.

Brooks’ attorney, San Joaquin County Deputy Public Defender Adam Grace, did not return calls for comment.

The California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation and the University of California, Davis Immigration Law Clinic will ensure that victims defrauded by Brooks will receive proper legal assistance, said Jennifer Molina, spokesperson for the attorney general.

The AG’s office asks any immigrants who feel they have been defrauded to call the state’s Public Inquiry Unit at 800-952-5225 or submit a complaint at oag.ca.gov.

Stephen Magagnini: 916-321-1072, @SteveMagagnini