FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, August 21, 2023
Disbarred Crown Heights Lawyer Indicted for Allegedly Providing
Immigration Services Without Law License
Allegedly Stole Thousands of Dollars from Nine Clients and Continued to
Practice Law Despite Being Disbarred in New York State
Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez today announced that a Crown Heights attorney specializing in immigration cases has been charged with stealing from nine of his clients while continuing to practice law despite being disbarred in New York State.
District Attorney Gonzalez said, “This defendant allegedly continued to practice law after being disbarred for misconduct and vulnerable immigrants sought his legal assistance. Instead of helping them, he allegedly defrauded his clients out of tens of thousands of dollars. We have no tolerance for this kind of alleged conduct, and my office will now seek to hold him accountable. I want to thank the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Investigations for their assistance with the case.”
HSI New York Special Agent in Charge Ivan J. Arvelo said, “Despite his disbarment resulting from the filing of hundreds of fraudulent petitions aimed at securing benefits for non-citizen clients, Owolabi Salis allegedly persisted in deceitfully portraying himself as a practicing attorney. Exploiting the vulnerability of both his clients and the system, he callously manipulated them for personal gain. Salis’s utter disregard for the laws of New York State is both reprehensible and unacceptable. Even more distressing is his alleged exploitation of a system designed to enable non-citizens to lawfully remain in the United States. HSI New York extends its appreciation to the collaborative endeavors of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services New York Fraud Detection and National Security Unit, the New York Office of the Principal Legal Adviser, HSI Newark, and the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office. Their combined efforts working alongside HSI NY’s Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force ensured today’s indictment.”
The District Attorney identified the defendant as Owolabi Salis, 60, of Crown Heights, Brooklyn. He was arraigned today before Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Heidi Cesare on an indictment in which he is charged with third-degree and fourth-degree grand larceny, second-degree criminal contempt, first-degree scheme to defraud, first-degree immigrant assistance services fraud and the unlawful practice of the law. The defendant was released without bail and ordered to return to court on October 11, 2023.
The District Attorney said that, according to the investigation, the defendant was disbarred on November 29, 2022, following an investigation by New York’s Attorney Grievance Committee that found he had filed fraudulent and frivolous immigrations petitions. The defendant was ordered to stop practicing law. He was further required to notify his clients that he had been disbarred and to advise them to obtain new counsel.
However, it is alleged that the defendant violated the order and continued to operate a law office at 1179 Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights while advertising “Salis Law P.C.” online.
Investigators found that the defendant typically opened his office early in the evening and stayed open well past midnight, drawing long lines of prospective clients, many of whom work daytime jobs. The defendant also allegedly continued to represent previous clients, the vast majority of whom spoke Spanish, and took money from them for various legal services pertaining to their immigration status without ever telling them that he had been disbarred and without advising them to get a new lawyer.
Following a search of the defendant’s office on March 7, 2023, nine of his clients, all of whom were from the Dominican Republic, alleged that the defendant stole from them money in amounts ranging from $8,000 to $800.
People who believe they have been victimized by this defendant are encouraged to contact the District Attorney’s Action Center at 718-250-2340 or send an e-mail to SalisComplaints@brooklynda.org.
Intelligence Analyst Yacelys Corona, of the District Attorney’s Investigations Division, and Paralegal Specialist Kevin Yu, of the District Attorney’s Immigrant Affairs Unit, assisted in the investigation.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney Gloria Rios, Chief of the District Attorney’s Immigrant Affairs Unit, and Senior Assistant District Attorney Peter Choi, of the District Attorney’s Frauds Bureau, under the supervision of Assistant District Attorney Michel Spanakos, Deputy Chief of the Investigations Division, and Patricia McNeill, Chief of the Investigations Division.
An indictment is an accusatory instrument and not proof of a defendant’s guilt.