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The lawsuit was filed in Hennepin County against Hammerschmidt and two companies, American Group US Inc. and The Legacy Firm Corp., which she runs. Swanson alleges the defendants charged Spanish-speaking immigrants with limited English language proficiency as much as $12,000 for legal work on applications for citizenship, asylum and other immigration matters. The lawsuit says Hammerschmidt is not an attorney but identified herself as one, and also said her companies were capable of providing immigration legal services. "This is an example of someone exploiting the complexity and cost of the legal process to their own advantage and to the detriment of others," Swanson said in a news release.
The lawsuit alleges violations of Minnesota's immigration services law, unauthorized practice of law statute and consumer protection laws. The lawsuit seeks an injunction and restitution for consumers.
A 33-year-old woman from Burnsville paid $7,000 to Hammerschmidt to process visa applications for herself and her son early in 2013 -- but after she made the payments, it was nearly impossible for her to reach Hammerschmidt, according to Ben Wogsland, a spokesman for Swanson.
Suspicious, M.G., whose name is being witheld for legal reasons related to the case, reached out directly to federal authorities and learned the visa number she was assigned belonged to someone else. M.G. was forced to withdraw her applications and hire another lawyer, according to the attorney general's office. "What I hope is that they can be stopped from deciving people," M.G. told the Pioneer Press through an interpreter. "And to refund the money to the people they lied to."
M.G.'s 16-year-old son, J.E., whose full name also was withheld for legal reasons related to the litigation, said he wants to join the U.S. Army after he graduates from high school -- a path that his mother now worries might be compromised. Phone messages left for Hammerschmidt were not returned Tuesday.