Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss federal criminal charges filed against a woman who failed the Florida Bar examination, started a fraudulent law firm, engaged in the unlicensed practice of law, and committed aggravated identity theft and mail fraud.
According to the federal charges and Florida Bar records, Roberta Guedes attended Stetson law school with Agnieszka Piasecka and both graduated in 2014. They had planned to open a law firm together; however, Guedes did not pass the Florida Bar examination. Piasecka passed the Bar examination and opened her own law firm, which handled wills and trusts, immigration, and dissolution matters. Guedes offered Piasecka the free use of an office in Tampa and Piasecka used the office a few times to meet with clients.
According to court records, in September 2014, Guedes incorporated an entity she called Ferguson and McKenzie LLC and listed Piasecka as a registered agent without her knowledge. She also listed another individual, Arlete Chouinard, as a vice president and manager for the business without her knowledge.
In November 2014, Guedes incorporated another entity, Immigration and Litigation Law Office, Inc., and again listed Piasecka and Chouinard as officers. The incorporation documents listed a Tampa address. Guedes used Chouinard’s name, social security number and other personal information to open bank accounts and multiple lines of credit and used the accounts for personal and business expenses for the two “firms”.
Guedes advertised the “firm’s” legal services, printed and handed out business cards bearing Piasecka’s name and her own, and created a website for the immigration “firm” which falsely listed Piasecka as an attorney. Guedes also accepted fees to represent clients in legal matters.
An individual retained Guedes to assist her to bring her Brazilian daughter to the U.S. The records related to the immigration matter had Guedes’ name and signature; however, it listed Piasecka’s Florida Bar number.
Another individual hired Guedes to help with a divorce from his Brazilian wife and she traveled with the man to an immigration hearing in Orlando and appeared before Immigration Judge Daniel Lippman. Guedes represented herself as Piasecka at the hearing and also posed as Piasecka in a telephone call with the judge a few weeks later.
Guedes also appeared in a Hillsborough courtroom in December 2015 with a Tampa man who had sought her help in filing a domestic violence petition and who did not know she was not a lawyer. She attempted to contact Judges Frances Perrone and Chet Tharpe requesting that his two cases be heard on the same day.
Judge Perrone granted this individual’s request for a temporary injunction and directed her judicial assistant to give his “lawyer” a courtesy call. The judge and her judicial assistant could not find Guedes name listed as a Florida lawyer. The judge’s office found Guedes’ telephone number through an internet search and, when the judge’s judicial assistant asked Guedes if she was a lawyer, she replied: “You can just scratch through that part (her signature on the court document).
The Florida Bar filed a 6 count petition with the Florida Supreme Court on May 14, 2018 alleging that Guedes engaged in the unlicensed practice of law. The petition alleged that “Guedes accepted money and purported to represent “clients” in immigration and family law cases and failed to disclose that she was not licensed to practice. The Bar’s petition is here: https://efactssc-public.flcourts.org/CaseDocuments/2018/728/2018-728_Petition_69809_PETITION2DUPL.pdf.
Guedes initially denied the allegations in the Bar’s petition and claimed that she had only assisted clients with court paperwork and translation services; however, in a Stipulation for Permanent Injunction filed with the Florida Supreme Court on March 22, 2019, Guedes agreed to refund the money that she had taken from the “clients” and a permanent injunction prohibiting her from holding herself out as a lawyer in the future.
The Florida Supreme Court issued an Order on May 2, 2019 permanently and perpetually” enjoining Guedes from engaging in the practice of law and requiring restitution in the amount of $3,782.00 as well as a $6,000.00 civil penalty.
Guedes signed a plea agreement on October 30, 2019 admitting to the federal charges of mail fraud and aggravated identity theft and a sentencing hearing has been scheduled for December 2019 in Tampa. She faces a minimum of two years in prison.
Bottom line: This lawyer completed law school and failed the Florida Bar examination; however, she was able to engage in the unlicensed practice of law in both state and federal immigration courts beginning in 2014. The unlicensed practice of law was discovered by a Hillsborough County Circuit Court judge and was reported to The Florida Bar. She was also investigated by federal prosecutors and charged with criminal fraud and identity theft and she will be sentenced on those charges in federal court in Tampa in December 2019.
Be careful out there.
Disclaimer: this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.
Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire
Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.
2999 Alt. 19, Suite A
Palm Harbor, Florida
Office (727) 799-1688
Fax (727) 799-1670
Please note: My office has moved and the new office address is 2999 Alt. 19, Palm Harbor, FL 34683. All other contact information remains the same.