Local couple accused of defrauding immigrants
Oakland City Attorney John Russo has sued an Alameda couple and one other woman saying the three swindled immigrant families out of thousands of dollars by falsely claiming they could provide legal assistance and obtain certain immigration benefits.
The civil suit, which was filed Thursday in Alameda County Superior Court, seeks $8.2 million in penalties, or $100,000 for each of the 82 alleged violations of the state’s Immigration Consultants Act, plus $150,000 in restitution to the business’ alleged victims.
Russo’s suit claims that Musa Bala Baldé and Irene Penaloza “Aiesha” Baldé, who the suit identifies as the owners of American Legal Services in Oakland, and Glenda Venegas falsely claimed to be attorneys authorized to provide legal services, and that they promised clients immigration benefits and status they were not eligible for. The suit claims that at least two people are facing deportation as a result of the trio’s actions.
It says a former client won a small claims judgment against Musa Bala Baldé in October when the court found Baldé had “misrepresented that he was a (sic) immigration attorney” and that complaints had been lodged with the Oakland and Fremont police departments.
American Legal Services has at least three offices in Oakland, the suit says. It alleges the violations have been taking place since 2007.
The Baldés are the co-founders of the Islamic Center of Alameda, and they lead a pair of nonprofit groups. Aiesha Baldé has sat on the city’s Housing Commission and on an advisory committee for the Alameda Food Bank and has been active in Alameda’s public schools, and particularly in promoting students’ understanding of Muslim traditions.
Aiesha Baldé was also the lead plaintiff in an unsuccessful suit which sought to obtain an opt-out for parents who don’t want their children to participate in elementary school lessons aimed at curbing anti-gay bullying.
The Baldés did not return calls to their office and home seeking comment or an e-mail seeking comment, and Venegas could also not be reached for comment.
Aiesha Baldé told The Island during a 2009 interview that she was a paralegal and immigration consultant.
The case filing is below.