A Cathedral City woman convicted of grand theft and other charges for posing as an immigration consultant and defrauding her clients received five years probation today.
Sara Arcelia Salcido, 40, also will be required to perform 300 hours of community service.
She was convicted in November of six counts of grand theft, two misdemeanor counts of petty theft and one misdemeanor count of illegally representing a client during an immigration hearing. Two other grand theft charges were dismissed for falling outside the statute of limitations.
Salcido was charged with taking more than $35,000 from 10 victims listed in a criminal complaint. However, DA’s investigators believe she may have taken more than $500,000 over the course of several years from an unknown number of victims.
Salcido was convicted at the conclusion of a brief, non-jury trial presided over by Riverside County Superior Court Judge John G. Evans.
Evans said Salcido was not qualified to provide immigration services but represented herself as an immigration consultant “whether through advertising, word-of-mouth, her actions and activities with her clients, and maintaining an office, which indicated she provided immigration services.”
Evans said her clients paid her money and relied “on defendant’s representations or pretenses that she was an immigration consultant.”
Salcido denied advertising herself as an immigration consultant during the trial, testifying that she told her clients she was a paralegal.
Deputy District Attorney Bryan Boutwell said Salcido did not comply with two major requirements to operate as an immigration consultant: registering with the California secretary of state, which requires such businesses to pass a background check, and being properly bonded with a $100,000 surety bond.
Salcido testified that she only became aware of the requirements in 2013, and could not afford to pay the $6,000 premium for the bond. She said that as a single mother, her choices were: “Either pay for food for my kids or the license.”
Salcido’s attorney, Leonard Cravens, argued during the trial that Salcido did not misrepresent herself to her clients and never guaranteed them results.
In his closing argument, he also questioned the constitutionality of Business and Professions Code 22440, which Salcido was convicted of violating for illegally representing a client during an immigration hearing.
Salcido said today she was willing to pay restitution to her victims, and a hearing will be scheduled to help decide the amount she will be required to pay back, Cravens said.
The case began with a consumer complaint filed last year with the DA’s office.
In August 2015, investigators from the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office served search warrants at her home and business, Immigration and Court Services of the Desert, located at 68-783 E. Palm Canyon Drive in Cathedral City.
Salcido has no prior felony convictions in Riverside County.