An El Toro businessman already under investigation for allegedly defrauding Spanish-speaking immigrants seeking work papers was arrested Thursday on 12 felony counts of tax evasion, authorities said.
Oscar Salinas, 51, owner of one of Southern California’s largest immigrant legalization services, was taken into custody at his El Toro home Thursday morning and placed in Orange County Jail. Bail was set at $250,000 and an arraignment was scheduled for today.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Gerald G. Johnston said Salinas, who also uses the name Jan Vouziers, was charged with eight counts of failure to pay payroll taxes for his employees and four counts of failure to file 1987-88 state income tax returns for his employees.
Salinas is the owner of one of the region’s largest immigrant assistance companies, with offices in Orange, Los Angeles, San Diego and Ventura counties.
Critics, including the Orange County Coalition for Immigrant Rights, have long complained that Salinas’ companies, which operate under different names, are guilty of sloppy and incomplete work in handling and processing residency and work applications for thousands of Spanish-speaking immigrants.
Johnston said his office has been investigating Salinas for more than 6 months in connection with complaints that he has lured immigrants to his businesses by making false promises of providing amnesty, residency or temporary work permits.
“I’d estimate he has about 5,000 clients,” Johnston said. “Depending on the program, it is very expensive. It can be up to $2,500 apiece for labor certification, and we think that there are about 2,000 people there.”
Johnston added that “there have been a number of complaints that people were lied to or not fully informed. Some people said they were not told they were not qualified but their money was taken anyway.”
Salinas also has been under investigation by the U.S. Labor Department, which sent two investigators to Orange County to assist in his arrest Thursday.
Johnston said the case was made difficult because many of Salinas’ customers are poorly educated, possibly in the country without proper papers and are afraid to speak to authorities for fear they will be deported.
Although the tax evasion charges have nothing to do with the fraud investigation, Johnston said his office thought it was important to make the case because “we felt that there was a real concern of injury to the community and we needed to do something.”
Johnston said some of Salinas’ firms operate under the names Hispanic Law Center, Attorney Management Services, H2A Growers Services and Southern California Immigration Center.
He said Salinas attracted customers primarily by advertising extensively on Spanish-language radio.
Robin Blackwell, coordinator of the Coalition for Immigrant Rights, said her office has been “receiving complaints daily about him.”
“There are a lot of gullible and innocent people who are hurt,” said Blackwell, whose office has been assisting the district attorney’s office in its investigation of Salinas.