A Virginia company that touts its record of reuniting immigrant families is accused in a lawsuit of exploiting those same families by charging excessive fees to facilitate their release.
The lawsuit filed last week in Rockingham County and announced Thursday accuses Verona-based Libre by Nexus of fraud and violating Virginia's consumer-protection laws. It says immigrants desperate to be released from detention paid Nexus thousands of dollars and agreed to onerous GPS monitoring imposed by the company.
The lawsuit filed by the Falls Church-based Legal Aid Justice Center says Nexus' business model seeks to evade regulations imposed on bail companies that would bar it from engaging in many of its practices.
"Libre attempts to camouflage its practices by casting itself as a champion of immigrants and a re-uniter of families, when in reality its scheme traps desperate immigrants into paying thousands of dollars," the lawsuit alleges, accusing Libre of raking in more than $100 million from the immigrant community.
Nexus President Mike Donovan defended his company Thursday at a news conference. He said tens of thousands of immigrants would otherwise be jailed without his company's services.
Donovan said immigration detainees are almost never able to obtain the services of a bail bondsman on their own, and detainees must come up with the full cash amount of their bond — often $10,000 or more — to obtain bail. If not, they may have to wait in jail months or even years for their case to be heard.
Nexus works with bondsmen and with immigrants so that the detainee pays a percentage of their bond to Nexus, and then agrees to monthly payments of several hundred dollars. Often, but not always, Donovan said, detainees are required by Nexus to submit to GPS monitoring.
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Donovan said the immigration system "is beyond broken. I think it's disgusting. I think it's abusive," he said at a press conference and rally that had a few dozen supporters outside Legal Aid Justice Center's offices in Falls Church. "I have created a company that takes that abusiveness and makes it possible for people to survive it, and to overcome it."
Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg said the problem is that the fees charged by Libre are excessive, and the company misleads immigrants about services to get them to sign contracts.
"We've always said Nexus is providing what could be a valuable service if it was done in a non-exploitative way," he said.
The arguments Nexus makes in its defense are no different than those made by payday lenders or other predatory lenders, he said.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit also allege that when they contacted Libre seeking relief from their monthly payments because they couldn't afford them, Libre was inflexible. Donovan denied that, and said his company often forgives payments when a person is in no position to pay.
Donovan has said he came up for the idea for his company while he himself was in jail on bad-check charges as a young man and couldn't afford bail. The company says it has about 25,000 clients across the country. Northern Virginia is one of its largest markets.
The Virginia Attorney General's Office and other agencies have announced investigations of the company's business practices.