A man accused of falsely representing himself as an immigration attorney throughout the Central Valley was sentenced Wednesday to five years in jail.
Rey Martin Lespier, 45, pled no contest to four felony counts of theft by false pretense and was ordered to make full restitution to his victims, according to a statement from the Merced County District attorney's office.
Deputy District Attorney Walter Wall prosecuted the case.
Lespier would advertise on Spanish-speaking radio stations that he could help individuals with legal needs, Wall said. Lespier would then require large sums of money from his victims upfront.
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After getting the money, Lespier wouldn't do anything to help the victims, Wall said. He wasn't licensed as an attorney in California or anywhere else, but set up offices under the name "American Legal Incorporated" in Merced and Fresno, where he met his victims and took their money while falsely promising to provide legal services.
In some instances, Lespier's actions were particularly flagrant, Wall noted.
One case involved a family who went to Lespier in an effort to get green cards, Wall said. Lespier told the victims he could make it happen, since they had a child with Down syndrome.
Lespier took $8,000 from the family and he videotaped the child with Down syndrome, claiming it would help the family get their green cards if he took it to immigration officials, Wall said. But Lespier never did anything to help the family.
"To me, that's egregious," Wall said.
There were many other instances in which Lespier siphoned thousands of dollars from his victims through unethical, illegal means, Wall said.
Warrants have been issued for Lespier in several states.
"In these troubled economic times there are, unfortunately, individuals who will commit fraud and take advantage of the unsuspecting," according to Wall. "This serves as a timely reminder, especially during the holiday season, to check the reputation, license and credentials of those who provide legal or other services before hiring them or paying them money."
Deputy Public Defender Chris Loethen represented Lespier. He wasn't available for comment Thursday.
Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.