Attorney and Counselor-at-Law Owolabi Salis is Disbarred for Defrauding Immigrant Clients

Attorney and Counselor-at-Law Owolabi Salis is Disbarred for Defrauding Immigrant Clients

By Linda Nwoke, Journal Exclusive

A New York City lawyer, 59-year-old, Owolabi Salis, a registered attorney and counselor-at-law since 2002, practicing immigration law in his firm, Salis Law P.C., or Salis and Associates, in Brooklyn and downtown Manhattan, has been disbarred. His name is now stricken from New York State’s roll of attorneys and counselors-at-law with immediate effect until otherwise ruled by the same Court.  

Henceforth, he cannot practice law in any form — as an agent, clerk, or employee of another firm. Furthermore, he cannot engage in any activities relating to advising or consulting on legal-related issues.

The ruling came from an indictment on an originally criminal charge he was acquitted of six years ago in 2016. The Court considered the disbarment the proper sanction. It was deemed an appropriate discipline for immigration-related misconduct without a criminal conviction, the defendant’s false advertising of legal practices, and his failure to appear at the sanction hearing.

The Case against Counselor-at-law Owolabi Salis 
According to a filed document by the New York’s Appellate District, the defendant was accused of filing over 1,000 frivolous and fraudulent immigration applications in 2014. The former attorney, Owolabi Salis, was charged by the agency investigating lawyers’ professional conduct, called New York’s Attorney Grievance Committee. They accused him of deliberately, in more than eight years, fraudulently filing more than 1180 green card applications, which had only one approval therein.

The criminal case was seemingly resolved in 2016 when the charges were dropped. However, in 2019, the same Court assigned a referee to investigate the case focusing mainly on liability and sanction hearing. Unfortunately, delays were caused by the COVID pandemic and led to the hearing taking place in May 2021.  

In March 2022, the N.Y. Supreme Court assigned Referee in a report that found him violating professional conduct rules. By August 2022, the Referee recommended disbarring the respondent and his license withdrawn. Later in the year, the Court granted the committee’s motion and accepted the Referee’s sanction leading to the loss of his license to practice law.

The Story So Far
According to a 2014 press release from the office of the District Attorney of New York County, the Manhattan District Attorney, Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., announced the indictment of the said immigration law attorney, Owolabi Salis, for duping more than 30 victims. These were predominantly immigrants from South America, the Caribbean Islands, Central America, and African countries, who sought his legal services for guidance through the various immigration processes. The district attorney claimed that rather than provide the services truthfully, the defendant took advantage of his clients and fleeced them by manipulating the system and his victims.   

He was charged on multiple counts charges including:

  • One count charge on attempted grand larceny in the third degree
  • Two counts charge of scheme to defraud in the first degree
  • Eight counts charge of falsifying business records in the first degree
  • Nine counts charge of grand larceny in the third degree

How It Begun
According to their investigative report, the defendant, who charged each victim $4500, misled them into believing they qualified for green cards and other immigration benefits.  

He further charged each victim an additional fee of $4,500 for obtaining their temporary work permits and delivery services that were subject to pending status adjustments. He withheld that the work permits were provisional and subject to termination upon denying any adjustment of the status petition. The attorney also ensured that the work permits were delivered to his office rather than his client’s homes, which enabled him to demand additional payment.

Manipulating the System 
Unknowing to his immigrant clients, the defendant filed their application using the federal I360 form. This document is reserved mainly for the immigration petition for permanent residence of special immigrants like victims of domestic violence and Iraqi and Afghani translators. On the form, he presented them as a Self-Petitioning Parent of a U.S. Citizen Child or used another title that was not a recognized and eligible category. For the clients with U.S.-born children, he included their child’s name under the category with the U.S. citizen abuser’s name and information, despite the non-existence of any elder abuse allegations against the petitioner. Interestingly, most of the children were toddlers.

He also filed both the I485 form and I765 form for the adjustment of status and employment authorization, respectively. Thus, temporary work permits were issued because of the I360s and I485 conditions. However, they would eventually be denied, and the letters were sent to his law firm.

Prosecution of Case 
The above findings were the basis of the prosecution in 2014 led by Assistant D.A Rosemary Yu, Co-Director of the Immigrant Affairs Program, under the supervision of other top officials and support for the investigation. They made the additional case that the respondent intentionally hid his identity from immigration authorities. He did not sign his name on the document as the one who prepared them and didn’t include the required G-28 notice of appearance form in the filings. He was also accused of falsely advertising his services and not including the correct label.

He was acquitted of criminal charges against his immigration practice and grand theft. In 2017, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) sent his conduct case to the Attorney Grievance Committee for more consideration on the charges associated with the fraudulent filing of several visa petitions and adjustment of status applications.

The defendant considered their action unlawful and a constant witch hunt despite his acquittal in criminal Court. He also pleaded not guilty to the issues and requested that the Court ignore the recommendations. His lawsuit in the Federal Court against DHS was denied in October 2021, and he received further rejection at the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Department of Homeland Security Investigations considered the case very serious because it was committed by an authorized officer of the Court. They firmly believe that such schemes that defraud immigrants must be adequately addressed.

Other related agencies, like the United States Customs and Immigration Services, also consider issues relating to immigration services scams as a high priority.

Consumers Note 
Many immigrants have fallen victim to immigration scams because immigration procedures and laws are complicated. Falling victim to a dishonest or incompetent attorney can result in the unnecessary removal of the victim from the United States. Thus, some helpful protective tips are:

  • Only engage the services of attorneys and experts in immigration — never hire a notary or an immigration consultant
  • Confirm that the immigration attorney you want to hire is licensed to practice law. To see if an attorney is licensed in New York, check the New York State Bar website
  • Obtain immigration information from appropriate government agency websites
  • Always read a paper copy of any contract you are asked to sign and seek clarification if in doubt or confused. If you are not fluent in English, you can review a translated copy of your contract before you sign it. The contract should state the services to be rendered and the amount charged. You have a right to keep a copy of the agreement. Always get a receipt for any payment made to an immigration attorney.

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