SAN DIEGO (CNS) - A Tijuana man who posed as an immigration attorney in San Ysidro, charging two victims more than $5,000 for immigration-related legal services, was sentenced today to three years probation after paying restitution to his victims.
Alberto Rodrigo Garcia, 51, pleaded guilty in December to felony grand theft and misdemeanor practicing law without a license. He paid back $3,500 to one victim and $2,000 to another.
Judge Laura Halgren denied a request from Deputy Public Defender Courtney Cutter to immediately reduce the felony conviction to a misdemeanor, saying Garcia's behavior was felony conduct. The judge did say, however, that Garcia could apply to have the felony reduced to a misdemeanor after one year.
Cutter said Garcia -- a tax preparer for years -- was operating a legitimate business but eventually got caught up in illegal activity, telling people that he was a certified attorney, which he was not.
"He understands that's not appropriate," Cutter told the judge.
But prosecutor Hector Jimenez said Garcia preyed on innocent and vulnerable victims, including undocumented immigrants that he knew wouldn't come forward to report the crimes against them.
Jimenez called Garcia's actions "extremely sinister."
Federal agents began investigating Garcia last May after receiving a tip.
He was arrested Nov. 1 at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry.