A Montebello man accused of posing as a licensed lawyer who helped Asians with their immigration affairs pleaded not guilty in Alhambra on Wednesday to five felony counts of grand theft and three misdemeanor charges of advertising his “practice.”
Deputy Dist. Atty. Stephen Lee charged that Michael Mawjian Tsai, 52, a Taiwanese national, preyed on Asian immigrants. Lee said Tsai charged more than $8,000 to handle legal matters that would have cost much less through qualified lawyers.
Prosecutors warned that those who had sought legal assistance through Tsai may be in jeopardy, and urged them contact immigration authorities.
“A lot of people might be waiting for green cards that are not coming,” Lee said.
In addition, Lee said, prosecutors have evidence that Tsai drafted wills as well as trust and business incorporation documents.
Acting on information from a person who suspected that Tsai was not a lawyer, an undercover investigator from the district attorney’s office visited Tsai’s Alhambra office and reported that Tsai had offered to draw up a will.
Tsai denied in an interview with United Press International that he had illegally worked as a licensed lawyer.
Tsai said he was graduated from American College of Law in Brea in August, 1968, but never passed the bar. “I am legally eligible to do the immigration work,” he said. “That’s completely legal. I never called myself an attorney at law.”
Tsai also denied prosecution claims that he made large amounts of money in his business. He estimated that he had netted only $36,000 a year. However, prosecutors pointed to office records and a Mercedes-Benz as proof that Tsai’s operations had been lucrative.
Tsai is due back in court today, when prosecutors plan to ask the judge to raise his bail to $150,000 from the $5,000 set two weeks ago when he was arrested.
Lee said the case involving Tsai is unique because it deals with Asians, but the prosecutor said the problem of unscrupulous people dealing with Latinos seeking amnesty is growing.
“We’re having a rash of problems with Hispanics,” Lee said. “They’re preying on people’s fears and they’re getting lots of money doing it.”