An immigration lawyer whose license was suspended after his 2008 conviction for federal document fraud faced opposition Friday from other lawyers and former clients as he tried to regain the right to practice law.
Jose del Castillo, a former chairman of the Hartford Redevelopment Agency, was sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison. In a hearing Friday at Superior Court in Hartford, he asked Judge James T. Graham to fully reinstate his law license.
But six lawyers, all members of the state chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, of which del Castillo once was a member, and three former clients testified that he was unfit to practice law.
In a letter given to the court, Douglas Penn, state chairman of the immigration lawyers group, said, "He has disgraced himself as an attorney, he has shown no regard for the rules of professional conduct, he has victimized countless people and most disturbing of all [by asking to be reinstated months after completing his prison sentence] he minimizes the harm he has caused."
Former client Alex Oporto said that he paid del Castillo about $30,000 to help get permanent residency before del Castillo eventually told him that he had been suspended.
"He didn't do anything," Oporto said.
Although the bulk of del Castillo's defense will be presented June 23, when the hearing continues, he said in brief comments Friday that he had more clients than he could handle when the problems occurred.
"I have paid for it and I seek to go on with my life," del Castillo said.
Del Castillo, a native of Peru, was indicted in 2006 on multiple counts of fraud for filing immigration forms with state and federal officials saying that his clients had legitimate job offers to work at Mamacita's at the Forge Restaurant, a Broad Street eatery he owned earlier in the decade.
He eventually pleaded guilty to one count of federal document fraud.
The cases date to late 2000 and early 2001, when the last immigration amnesty offered by the federal government set off a frenzied period in which illegal immigrants needed an immediate family member or employer to sponsor them. Prosecutors said that del Castillo acted as his clients' employer and charged them to be their attorney.
Penn said Friday that del Castillo encouraged his clients to commit fraud by submitting falsified documents about their work experience. When the fraud was discovered, it irrevocably hurt the immigrants' chance of ever winning their cases, several lawyers said.
Joseph Tapper, a former state chairman of the immigration lawyers group, said that del Castillo's actions also hurt the relationship between immigration lawyers and local immigration officials. "We've been tarred with a very, very dirty brush," Tapper said.
Several attorneys said that immigrants seeking help often are desperate for help, but are afraid to complain if they feel they have been poorly represented.
Del Castillo's attorney, James F. Sullivan, said his client would not be involved in immigration law in the foreseeable future if he were reinstated and would have a much smaller practice than his once thriving office at 255 Main St.
"He is currently a changed man," Sullivan said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at