Firm accused of preying on detained immigrants faces widening investigations

Firm accused of preying on detained immigrants faces widening investigations


Originally published by The Washington Post

Investigations into a Virginia-based company accused of preying on detained undocumented immigrants have expanded.

Libre by Nexus, an immigration bond services company, is the subject of probes by the attorneys general of Virginia, New York and Washington state, according to state and federal court records.

The previously unreported investigations come on top of a federal probe by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), made public in October.

In a statement, Libre’s parent company, Nexus Services, acknowledged two of the state investigations and did not deny the third.

“Nexus . . . continues to cooperate with responsible inquiries into our business model and the life-affirming work we do every day to support immigrants,” CEO Mike Donovan said.

Libre by Nexus helps post bond for people being held in immigration detention centers while they wait for their cases to be heard in backlogged courts. In exchange for their freedom, immigrants sign contracts promising to pay Libre $420 per month while wearing the company’s GPS ankle devices.

The contracts have been the subject of lawsuits and allegations of fraud by immigrants who claim they did not understand them.

Libre by Nexus has vigorously denied any wrongdoing, saying its contracts are transparent and preferable to someone remaining behind bars.

The Washington Post reported a year ago that at least two states were investigating the company at the time but did not name them.

Details of the investigations are revealed in a flurry of recent legal filings by and against the company.

The most recent came Wednesday, when the Virginia Attorney General’s Office filed a petition in Richmond city circuit court to force Nexus to turn over records the attorney general’s office sought in December.

The attorney general’s office demanded the records because, the petition said, it had reason to think Nexus had engaged in “deceptive conduct and misrepresentations in connection with immigration bond services.” It also sought records on some of the company’s spinoffs, including its real estate operations, criminal bond services and much-publicized prize giveaways.

A similar investigation in New York came to light last month when Nexus filed a petition objecting to a subpoena from that state’s attorney general.

In New York and Virginia, Nexus has objected to demands to turn over customer records, claiming that doing so would put its immigrant clients and their families at risk.

“Nexus has expressed concern that this information could be disclosed by the Commonwealth to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement,” the Virginia Attorney General’s Office noted in its petition.

Both states assured Nexus the records would not be misused, according to court filings. When Nexus demanded confidentiality agreements before producing the documents, the states refused.

“A government investigation cannot be controlled by the subject of the investigation itself,” the Virginia Attorney General’s Office wrote.

Documents filed in the New York case revealed the ongoing investigation in Washington.

Brionna Aho, a spokeswoman for the Washington attorney general, said she could not comment on the investigation other than to confirm its existence.

Founded in 2013, Libre by Nexus claims to have enjoyed explosive growth as the demand for immigration bonds has soared. By early 2017, the company had more than 6,500 clients, 200 employees, nearly 30 offices and yearly revenue in excess of $30 million, Donovan told The Washington Post at the time.

The CFPB announced in December that it was suspending its investigation into Nexus until a federal judge in the District of Columbia rules on a lawsuit the company filed against the agency.

In that lawsuit, Nexus argued that the federal consumer watchdog lacked authority to investigate the company and that the bureau’s demand for documents was “excessively vague and overbroad.”

Several of the investigations cite The Post’s reporting.

Investigators are not the only ones demanding access to Nexus’s records. So, too, is one of the company’s business partners.

In a lawsuit filed April 12 in federal court in western Virginia, the insurance company RLI claims Nexus broke an agreement between the two entities and demands access to Nexus’s customer and financial information.

Because Nexus is not a bail bonds company, it partners with bondsmen and insurance companies such as RLI that actually issue the bonds that allow Libre by Nexus customers to leave ICE detention.

RLI said that since partnering with Nexus in early 2016, it issued more than 2,400 immigration bonds on Nexus’s behalf.

In its lawsuit, RLI claims that some of Libre by Nexus’s customers breached their bonds by failing to show up for immigration check-ins, hearings or deportation. Nexus violated its agreement with RLI by failing to pay for the breached bonds, forcing RLI to pay and putting at risk its certification from the U.S. Treasury, the lawsuit says.

In an echo of the state and federal investigations into Nexus, RLI’s lawsuit also claims the company failed to provide records. After months of negotiations, RLI and its attorneys were scheduled to visit Nexus’s headquarters in Verona, Va., in late March. The day before the visit, however, Nexus canceled, according to court filings.

In court filings, RLI said Nexus had demanded a confidentiality agreement before turning over the records “only to delay and otherwise frustrate RLI’s rights.”

In his statement, Donovan said his company’s disagreement with RLI, like its objections to the New York and Virginia investigations, arose from its desire to protect its customers.

“Libre by Nexus clients are seeking asylum in the United States, many fleeing drug lords, criminal gangs, abusive husbands and some fearing deportation by ICE. For these immigrants, personal information can be a matter of life or death,” he said. “As always, Nexus stands with the immigrant community in the face of all potential threats, which is why we’ve taken proactive legal action against both public and private entities to defend their confidentiality at any cost.”

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