How Texas Businesses Can Unknowingly Break the Law

By Peek & Toland on February 24, 2017

Businesses can easily break the law without realizing it. A failure to follow the rules can leave them facing criminal sanctions and crippling fines. Here are five ways Texas businesses can unknowingly break the law.

1 Improperly Using Investor Funds

If you are a struggling start-up business and you suddenly receive a sizeable sum of money from an investor, there may be a temptation to spend it on yourself. Even if you only use a small amount you may land up in trouble.

Investment funds are held in trust. As a business owner, you have a fiduciary duty to investors to be ethical and report how the money is being used. You may think buying a new car helps your image as a business. It could leave you facing fraud charges.

How Texas businesses can fall foul of the law

Texas businesses can easily break the law

2 Misclassifying Employees as Contractors

You can fall foul of a wide range of employment laws as a small business owner. It may be tempting for Texas businesses to designate workers as independent contractors. You can cut costs by not paying them overtime or other benefits and increase your profit margins.

In reality, small business owners do not always have the freedom to choose whether a worker is an employee or a contractor. There are certain tests set out by the federal government. This IRS sets out the characteristics of a worker and an employee here.

If you misclassify a worker you can face penalties, back wages and back taxes that can hit your bottom line.

If you are unsure about the status of worker, Texas businesses can request an IRS determination by filling out Form SS-8.

3 Accidentally Hiring Undocumented Immigrants

It’s very easy to fall foul of immigration laws, which is why we recommend you hire an experienced Travis County, Texas immigration lawyer.

When you hire a worker you have to fill in form I-9 by law. This documents the eligibility of the worker for employment in the United States. Although it’s a single piece of paper there are many common mistakes that can be made while completing and maintaining I-9 records. Failure to do the paperwork correctly can lead you to employ an undocumented immigrant and to face heavy fines from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Texas Businesses Can Improperly Bill for Services

4 Improperly Billing for Services Like Medicare

Healthcare related businesses face very strict regulations about how they can charge for expenses related to Medicare. It can be easy to break the rules without realizing it. Health care fraud has been the subject of crackdowns by the federal authorities in recent years. We have noted some major health care fraud prosecutions in Texas.

In 2016, federal investigation uncovered a $900 million health care fraud in Texas and other U.S. states.

5 Making False Claims when Bidding for Government Contracts

It’s not a crime to promote your business, but you should not make false claims. This is particularly the case if you are submitting an RFP (request for proposal) for a government contact. False claims can include your experience, previous projects and the time you will take to do the work,

You should be as honest as possible when dealing with the government to avoid potential sanctions.

At Peek & Toland, PLLC we work with many business owners to make sure they are complying with the complex legal requirements of running a company. Call us for a consultation at (512) 474-4445.

Restrictions on Traveling Abroad for Sex Offenders

By Peek & Toland on February 23, 2017

Registered sex offenders can face many obstacles when they travel abroad. In some cases, they can be denied a visa to enter another country.

That process became even more formalized under a law enacted in 2016 which is known as the International Megan’s Law.

Writing in the Washington Post, Chris Smith hailed the new law as an “important step” to eradicating sex tourism.

Smith, a Republican member of the House of Representatives, is the author of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000. The landmark law tackles sex and labor trafficking at home and abroad.

travel restrictions for sex offenders

sex offenders face further travel restrictions

He was concerned that the United States wasn’t doing enough to prevent convicted pedophiles from traveling abroad to abuse children.

The new law designates two types of registered sex offenders required to include a mark on their American passport.

People who have been convicted of a sex crime involving a minor, or those required to register as a sex offender with the National Sex Offender Registry or in any state, must comply with the new statute.

The new law states that the identification must be a “visual designation affixed to a conspicuous location” on the offender’s passport. The law prevents any passport-issuing authority from giving a sex offender a passport unless the mark is included.

The International Megan’s Law set up a new reciprocal and comprehensive notification system between U.S. and foreign law enforcement agencies over the travel of people required by law to be on government sex-offender registries.

Smith listed a number of nations that see large amounts of sex tourism including Thailand, Mexico, the Philippines, Brazil, and Peru.

Restricted Travel for Sex Offenders

The aim of the new law is to restrict travel for people who have been convicted of offenses involving children. It’s particularly aimed at nations with a thriving sex industry.

A report in 2008 said least 4,500 registered sex offenders received passports. Now, the requirement for their status to be marked on their passport is likely to make it more difficult for them to travel.

Smith said The International Megan’s Law honors Megan Kanka — a girl from his hometown of Hamilton, N.J. who Megan’s Law was named after. She was kidnapped, raped and murdered in 1994 by a neighbor. People living in the vicinity did not know he was a convicted sex offender.

After a long campaign, all 50 states passed Megan’s laws requiring public notification of convicted sex offenders living in any community.

If you have been charged with a sex crime you will likely face many consequences. Sex offenders who have served their sentence remain on a registry. However, these charges can be based on unreliable evidence.

You should call an experienced Austin criminal defense attorney if you are charged with an offense. Contact us here.

Investigation Finds “High Threat” Border Arrests Include Drunk Driving and Not Paying Child Support

By Peek & Toland on February 22, 2017

More than 1,800 offenders who were the subject of border arrests near Mexico in 2015 were classified as “high threat criminals” by the Texas Department of Public Safety.

However, the classification has since been questioned. A report found many of those arrested in the border operation were busted for drunk driving and failure to pay child support.

An analysis of the figures by Associated Press questioned claims those who were arrested posted a high threat, Fox News reported.

Traffic offenses dominate border arrests

Many border arrests are for low-level offenses

The report said Texas Department of Public Safety once claimed conventional data fails to capture the danger to public safety and homeland security from border arrests. A $1 billion initiative was set up to secure the border.

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick claimed many of those who were arrested were illegally crossing the border.

The AP investigation took issue with this claim. The probe led the Department of Public Safety to recommend removing child support evaders from the high threat list.

But the department defended the data stating it’s not intended to measure border security, although the statistics are included in briefings to legislators.

The AP used the open records laws to obtain a list of “high threat” offenders across 60 counties in the border region. Investigators looked at jail records in Hidalgo and El Paso counties, border areas that had the highest numbers of arrests. Hidalgo County, located in the Rio Grande Valley, is one of the most prolific corridors for drug and human trafficking in the United States.

The Fox report said the “high threat’ crimes included a trailer that came unlatched from an RV and ended up in incoming traffic. The incident killed another driver more than 150 miles away from the border.

AP found speeding teenagers and cases of hit-and-run with no serious injuries were included in the same classification as killers and human traffickers.

Criticism of the “High Threat” Border Arrests Data

Rep. Terry Canales, a Democratic state rep for the border city of Edinburg, said it was “shocking” that a person arrested carrying a small amount of cocaine in Odessa was classified as a high-threat criminal arrest on the Texas-Mexico border.

There was also criticism about the perceived lack of specifics in drug arrests. Many of the 2015 arrests were for possession of a controlled substance, but DPS fails to make a distinction between a tiny amount of cocaine and 50 pounds of marijuana brought in by a smuggler. The failure to pay child support was lumped in with sex crimes under offenses against the family.

If you have been charged with any drug offense or other crime near the border, there is a danger you will be wrongly classified as being a high risk criminal and treated unfairly.

See our resources about drug crimes of call us today for a consultation at (512) 474-4445.

Texas Attorney General’s Criminal Fraud Trial Moves Closer

By Peek & Toland on February 21, 2017

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has been dismissive of his looming criminal fraud trial but attempts to get the charges dismissed have been unsuccessful to date.

The Texas Tribune reported in November that attorneys acting for Paxton are no longer seeking to have the state securities fraud charge against him dismissed.

A deadline passed for attorneys to seek to persuade the state’s highest court to look into the case.

Texas has a long history of public officials being charged with white collar crimes and Paxton is just the latest.

Attorney General Ken Paxton faces a criminal fraud trial

Paxton’s attorneys say they are confident in the strength of the attorney general’s case.

Paxton is accused of convincing investors to purchase stock in a North Texas technology firm without disclosing that he was being paid by the firm. He faces criminal charges in Texas based on the allegations. The charges stem from a time before he was the state’s attorney general.

The felony charges date back to Paxton’s private business deals in 2011 and 2012.

Although the federal case was dismissed last September, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission rebooted the case by filing amended allegations.

Attorney General Faces Criminal Fraud Trial in the Spring

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals upheld Paxton’s criminal indictments. A trial is likely in Collin County in the spring. The burden of proof in the criminal proceeding is far greater than that of the SEC case, according to Paxton’s lawyers.

White collar charges such as fraud are notoriously complicated. We have seen a raft of cases like this in which public officials have faced expensive and lengthy court proceedings, only for the cases against them to collapse.

Former Texas governor Rick Perry was accused of abuse of power charges. The charges against him were dismissed by Texas’ highest court in 2016, reported the New York Times.

However, Dan Morales, a former Texas attorney general, was jailed for four years for mail fraud. He was accused in 2003 of mailing money in unearned legal fees to a friend. He subsequently admitted charges of lying on his tax return and mail fraud.

If you have been charged with a white collar crime in Texas, you may be facing a very onerous sentence. Call us at (512) 474-4445.

What is the U.S. Green Card Lottery?

By Peek & Toland on February 20, 2017

The green card lottery is also known as the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program (DV Program). It’s an initiative that’s aimed at countries with low rates of immigration to the United States.

The U.S. Department of State outlines the program on its website. The green card lottery makes up to 50,000 immigrant visas that are drawn every year. It’s a random selection.

The program was created under Section 203(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). The legislation provides for a class of immigrants known as “diversity immigrants.” They are from nations with historically low rates of immigration to the United States.

The diversity visas are distributed among six geographic regions and no one country is allowed receive more than seven percent of the available DVs in any one year.

The green card lottery

The countries of eligibility in the 2018 program include Italy, Turkey, Poland, Japan, Romania, Russia, Spain, and Nepal.

Most winners of the green card lottery live outside the United States and immigrate through consular processing and the issuing of an immigrant visa.

How to Enter the Green Card Lottery Program

Every year a small number of lottery winners are living in the United States in a nonimmigrant or other legal status.

You can adjust your status under the diversity immigrant visa program provided you:

  • Were selected for a diversity visa by DOS’s lottery;
  • Have an immigrant visa immediately available when you file an adjustment application (Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status); and
  • Are admissible to the United States.

USCIS recommends you check the latest month’s DOS Visa Bulletin to find out about visa availability.  The chart shows when the Diversity Immigrant cut-off is met. Once the cut-off is met, visas will be available in a given month for the applicants with Diversity Immigrant lottery rank numbers below the specified cut-off numbers for their geographic areas.

The Diversity Immigrant Visa program is one of many ways you can apply for a green card. Although numbers are small, it’s a useful way of boosting applications from nations with low levels of immigration.

Many immigrants gain green cards via sponsorship from a permanent resident. Adjustment of status is available to visa carriers, people with pending petitions, and those with an expired visa. Some immigrants obtain a green card through an asylum application or petition.

If you have any questions about obtaining a green card, please contact our experienced Austin immigration attorneys and speak with an expert green card lawyer today. Call us at (512) 474-4445.

Texas Court Exonerates the San Antonio Four of Child Sex Assault

By Peek & Toland on February 17, 2017

Texas has a high rate for exonerations as miscarriages of justice going back decades are addressed. In a high-profile case in November, the so-called “San Antonio Four” were cleared.

The Court of Criminal Appeals ruled the convictions of the four women failed the “smell test.”

According to AOL.com, they were convicted due to junk science, tainted testimony and misinformation over lesbian behavior.

The state’s highest criminal court ruled Elizabeth Ramirez, Kristie Mayhugh, Cassandra Rivera and Anna Vasquez were innocent of child sex assault crimes. Their criminal records will be expunged and they will be able to seek millions of dollars in compensation from the state of Texas.

The San Antonio Four were exonerated

The four women were convicted of the crimes more than 15 years ago in 1998. They were accused by two of Ramirez’s nieces, aged 7 and 9.

The nieces claimed the four women sexually assaulted them after restraining them by the wrists and ankles in 1994 at Ramirez’s apartment.

The conviction was undermined after one of the nieces later said the crimes had not occurred and a family member threatened her into making the statements. Ramirez said she had turned down a marriage proposal from the nieces’ father before the allegations were made.

The AOL report stated testimony by pediatrician Nancy Kellogg, an expert witness used by the state, came under fire.

Kellogg told the jury there were physical injuries inflicted upon the girls which were consistent with satanic rituals prevalent among some lesbians.

Kellogg later retracted her testimony. She agreed with the defense team claims that there were no signs of physical abuse, the appeals court stated.

We have previously noted how expert witnesses have been discredited in Texas, in particular, Dr. James Grigson, who was nicknamed “Dr. Death” due to a large number of defendants who ended up on death row due to his testimony.

The San Antonio Four Spent 15 Years in Jail

The case of the San Antonio Four became one of the most talked about legal battles in recent years in Texas. It also may prove to be one of the most costly for the state.

They four women had recently come out as lesbians. Prosecutors used their sexuality as a motive for the alleged crimes. The women refused plea deals before the trial and testified in their own defense.

Ramirez was jailed for 37 years, while the other three women received 15-year sentences. Vasquez was paroled four years ago, and the other three women were released in 2013 after legal challenges were filed about Kellogg’s testimony.

Judge David Newell wrote in the majority opinion at the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals hearing that the women were innocent. He stated:

“Those defendants have won the right to proclaim to the citizens of Texas that they did not commit a crime. That they are innocent. That they deserve to be exonerated.”

The case of the San Antonio Four highlights how you can be convicted of a crime when there is scant little evidence in Texas. While child abuse cases shock communities, young witnesses can be impressionable and make false claims.

If you have been charged with a sex crime, it’s vital that you hire experienced legal representation. At Peek & Toland, PLLC we offer vigorous representation in criminal appeals. Contact our Texas criminal defense lawyers here.

How Can Foreign Nationals Find a Job and Gain Work in the US?

By Peek & Toland on February 16, 2017

When foreign nationals want to come to the United States to improve their life and career prospects they face a tricky Catch 22 situation.

It’s much easier to find a job in the United States but they won’t be eligible for a visa unless they have a job or are enrolled on a course.

We see this issue with a lot of people we help who are not able to get a job because they don’t have a work visa.

Foreign nationals face obstacles finding work in the US

How foreign nationals can find work

Here are some tips to finding a job in the U.S. from abroad.

1 Scour a Wide Range of Sources

The site Just Landed provides a list of resources to help you find jobs and make contacts.

They include online directories like CareerBuilder.com, state employment service centers, head hunting agencies, chambers of commerce and networking. It often pays to have someone in the U.S. who can help you.

2 Revise Your Resume

You should remove indications on your resume that you are a foreign worker. Highlight skills that are relevant to the United States. Many U.S. employers will immediately pass you over if they realize they need to sponsor you for a work visa from the outset. Instead, get them interested in what you have to offer.

3 Have a U.S. Address

If you are applying for employment from another country, it’s useful to have an address in the United States such as that of a friend or a family member to ensure your application is not immediately rejected.

4 Have Internship Work in the U.S. Under Your Belt

It’s important to secure an internship in the United States as soon as possible. Work experience in the United States will look good on your resume and help convince a prospective employer that you are familiar with the American working culture.

5 Be Familiar with Visas

If you know about the visa process and which visa you need to apply for it will make you appear more knowledgeable and serious during an interview. As we explain on our website, there is a bewildering array of visas available to you. An experienced Austin immigration lawyer can help you work through the process. Highlight your benefits with a potential employer. Do your homework and be ready to give visa suggestions.

6 Avoid Talking About Sponsorship

Sometimes employers can get fazed by the idea of sponsorships. The concept of sponsoring someone sounds daunting and expensive. Instead, sell your skills. Say you are eligible for employment and the employer simply needs to petition. Try not to overwhelm a prospective employer with the intricacies of the immigration system.

The high demand for foreign workers in industries such as technology confirms overseas workers are in demand. However, many employers can see the immigration process as a headache and would rather not go through it. These simple tips can help you secure a job from abroad.

Our Austin visa lawyers advise companies and workers on the necessary documentation to work in the United States. Call us at (512) 474-4445.

President Trump Announces Major Immigration Reforms

By Peek & Toland on February 15, 2017

President Trump signed two orders on immigration and border security on Jan. 25. They amount to major immigration reforms.

Although Trump’s pledge to press on with a wall between Mexico and the United States made headlines, his orders contained some other important immigration moves on areas such as sanctuary cities and immigrants who commit crimes.

Here are some of the main elements of the reforms.

Trump's immigration reforms

Building a Wall

Trump has instructed the homeland security secretary to take steps to design, plan and construct a “physical wall along the southern border.” The move is intended to assert greater U.S. control over the border.

Although Trump can issue executive orders, the funding for the project needs to be approved by Congress. The 1,300 mile long wall could cost $15 to $25 billion, reports CNN. Trump wants to pay for the wall up front and recoup the cost from Mexico. The Mexican government says it will not pay for the barrier.

Expanding Detention Centers

The orders envisage more undocumented immigrants being held in detention centers. Congress had funding for about 34,000 beds for the detention of immigrants at the start of the year.

The order instructs the Department of Homeland Security to build or establish detention facilities close to the border and staff them with asylum officers and immigration judges. Immigrants caught illegally crossing the border or in deportation proceedings would be housed in the centers.

In Texas, immigrant detention centers have faced legal challenges over the housing of women and children within their walls.

Defunding Sanctuary Cities

As part of his so-called “interior” security measures, Trump wants to stamp out sanctuary cities – jurisdictions that shield undocumented immigrants from federal law enforcement.

The order would remove federal grant money from the sanctuary states like San Francisco and Austin that harbor illegal immigrants.

The order declares that sanctuary cities would not be “not eligible” for federal grants. It directs the Office of Management and Budget to highlight federal grant money currently going to sanctuary jurisdictions.

An article on CNN said moves to strip sanctuary cities of money will almost inevitably face a legal challenge.

Increasing the Deportation Force

The orders support a larger deportation force to remove more undocumented immigrants.

The border security order instructs the Department of Homeland Security to hire another 5,000 Border Patrol agents. The order that focuses on the security of the interior of the nation seeks the addition of 10,000 immigration officers. It’s a pledge that’s subject to Congressional approval.

These are uncertain and difficult times to be an immigrant and these immigration reforms make it harder. However, we are not sure exactly how the immigration reforms will pan out and the timeframe in question. The family immigration lawyers at Peek & Toland, PLLC can help you out. Please call us at (512) 474-4445.

The Biggest Immigration Cases in 2016

By Peek & Toland on February 14, 2017

There was no shortage of controversial immigration cases in 2016. With immigration a cornerstone of the new administration’s agenda, 2017 is also likely to be a frenetic year in the courts.

Law 360 recently profiled some of the biggest cases of 2016. Texas played a major role in what was undoubtedly the most significant legal battle of the year.

The biggest immigration cases of 2016

Texas Takes on the President

When President Barack Obama sought to extend his flagship immigration policy, he was blocked by Congress. He enacted executive orders on immigration, only to be blocked by Republican-led states. Texas was at the vanguard of the action. It was one of the biggest immigration cases of recent years.

The case of United States v. Texas concerned the fates of 4 million undocumented immigrants. Obama’s reforms would have bought many undocumented parents of U.S. citizens or permanent residents temporary relief from deportation and the chance to work. It also entailed an extension of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) plan to protect undocumented children of citizens or permanent resident.

Last summer the orders failed when the U.S. Supreme Court was split 4-4. Obama’s attempts to appoint a ninth justice also failed. The reform is set to become history under the presidency of Donald Trump who is a fierce opponent.

You can read more about United States v. Texas here on our website.

Key Syrian Refugee Case is Heard in Texas

Attempts by the authorities in Texas to prevent the resettling of Syrian refugees in the Lone Star State were thrown out in June.

A Texas federal court rejected the attempt to bar Syrians, stating that a Texas agency lacked the basis to enforce a consultation requirement under the Refugee Act. The ruling was the latest setback for states that sought to restrict refugee resettlement. Indiana was also barred from stopping the arrival of refugees from Syria.

The state of Texas filed a lawsuit against the federal government and a nonprofit that supports refugees.

Abuse of the EB-5 Investor Visa Program

The EB-5 investor visa program is an effective way of bringing overseas investment into the United States but it remains controversial.

In April in a high-profile immigration case, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission sued Vermont ski resort owners and executives accusing them of taking part in an eight-year scheme that took $350 million from investors who hoped to obtain visas through the EB-5 program.
Under the EB-5 program, overseas investors receive green cards in exchange for their investments. However, in rare cases, the investors have lost their money without receiving any immigration benefit.

Battles over Immigration Detention Centers

Immigration detention centers remained controversial in 2016, particularly when women and children were housed in them.

Grassroots Leadership from Austin, an immigrant advocate group, gained a temporary injunction prevented the award of a child care facility license to South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley.

Judge Karin Crump in Austin prevented the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) from issuing a child care license to the center at Dilley. More than 400 women and children were released from two detention centers by the federal authorities in December.

Texas was pivotal in the most important immigration cases of 2016. It is expected to play a central part in immigration battles in 2017. Often the authorities will try to treat immigrants in an unlawful way. It’s necessary to hire an experienced Austin immigration lawyer to protect your rights. Call us at (512) 474-4445.

Undocumented Immigrant Deportations – Up To Three Million Removals Are Planned

By Peek & Toland on February 13, 2017

President Donald Trump wants to remove undocumented immigrants and to do it fast. His plan for undocumented immigrant deportations has alarmed many people who are unlawfully living in Texas.

Trump spoke of deporting large numbers of undocumented immigrants during the election campaign. He mentioned the figure of 11 million.

However, in his first television interview since winning the election, he said he planned to deport 2 – 3 million undocumented immigrants when he took office.

The statements came in a “60 Minutes” interview, reported WFAA8.

Trump has promised increase in undocumented immigrant deportations

Undocumented immigrant deportations are set to rise

In the interview, Trump made it clear he’s targeting undocumented immigrants with criminal records. He said:

“We’re going to get the people that are criminals, have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers, – we have a lot of these people, probably 2 million, could even be 3 million, we’re getting them out of our country or we’re going to incarcerate.”

The WFAA8 report reflected the fears of undocumented immigrants who live in Texas.

They include Catalina Acuna. She lives in Irving where she moved from California. Acuna and her husband fled cartel violence in Mexico in 2000.

She has three children who were born in the U.S, and hence are citizens through birth.

However, Acuna is undocumented and fears deportation. As many as 1.5 immigrants in Texas are in the same category.

Acuna was more relieved to hear Trump appears to have reduced his deportation figure to one comparable with that of the Obama administration, which also placed an emphasis on deporting immigrants with criminal records in the last four years.

Austin Family Lawyers Help Undocumented Immigrants

 

Although Trump appears to have softened his stance on deportations, there are no guarantees for the undocumented.

Trump maintains he will secure the border between the United States and Mexico, although part of the promised wall could be a fence.

After securing the border, he will make a decision on what to do with approximately 9-10 million immigrants who don’t have lawful status in the United States but have no criminal background.

He suggested these immigrants are “terrific people,” but gave no indication about his future plans for them.

If you are slated for deportation you should not assume it’s a lost cause, even if you have a criminal conviction. These cases have to be processed by the immigration courts. It’s often in the best interests of a family for its members to be kept together.

You can read about our Austin family immigration lawyers’ record in cancellation of removal cases here. Call us at (512) 474-4445.