April Floyd needed an attorney.
In 2012, her son, Troy Floyd, was arrested in Salt Lake City by members of Utah's Joint Criminal Apprehension Team. The Floyds felt the arresting officers used excessive force — and wanted to explore the possibilities of filing a civil lawsuit.
The next year, the son met a man while incarcerated who told him he knew a lawyer who could help: his sister, Mary Ann Lucero.
Lucero, who also goes by the name Mary Ann Dipoma, went to April Floyd's Vernal home in 2013 to talk about the case. Floyd said she had no reason to doubt that Lucero was actually an attorney.
"She said she was going to check into it," April Floyd said in a phone interview Friday. "She said she was going to get money out of JCAT. She said she was going to get right on it, [and said] I can get more information than you can because I can get court records." April Floyd gave Lucero $850 to take up their case. But as the months went by, a lawsuit was never filed.
"She would just call once in awhile and say she was on it," April Floyd said. "... I tried to call her. I would try to send emails to her. I wouldn't get any answer. I didn't know what was going on. It just kind of fizzled out."
April Floyd said her son eventually wrote a letter to the Utah State Bar association about his attorney, who had at that point seemingly disappeared.
They soon discovered that they were not the only people who had been duped by Lucero. State bar officials said the woman, who operates under the business name of Wasatch Legal and Collection Services, is not a licensed attorney and currently has a warrant out for her arrest.
Lucero has a history of impersonating an attorney in Utah that dates back almost 20 years, according to court records. She was accused of stealing money from one client she assisted with a spouse life insurance policy pay-out. Court records indicate another client hired her to assist with a mortgage foreclosure and discovered later that she had lost her property and the title was transferred to Lucero's boyfriend. Court records also show that a Salt Lake County bartender reported to the Bar that Lucero frequently told patrons that she was an attorney.
Bar officials say that before anyone hires counsel for a court issue, they should verify that the attorney is licensed and a member of the bar. They can do so by calling the Utah State Bar at 801-531-9077 or by visiting the Bar's Membership Directory on their website.
"Only persons who are active, licensed members of the Bar in good standing may engage in the practice of law in Utah," said Sarah Spencer, who co-chairs the Bar's Committee on the Unauthorized Practice of Law.
Jonathan Rupp, who also co-chairs the committee, said immigrants are often the targets of fake attorneys.
"In Latin American counties," he said in a statement, "notary publics are attorneys, so it is easy to confuse those new to this country about who can practice law and who can be an immigration consultant."
Utah is one of five states that allow people to work as immigration consultants without a law degree, but registration with Utah's Office of Consumer Protection is required for non-attorneys.
Last month, 3rd District Court Judge John Paul Kennedy issued a bench warrant for Lucero's arrest for violating a 1997 civil order that bans her from practicing law without a license. The judge also sentenced her — in absentia — to spend 210 days in jail and pay $13,000 in fines.
Court records indicate that since the civil order was put in place 17 years ago, Lucero has been caught practicing law twice — in 2006 and 2008. In 2009, she served jail time for the violation.
"It appears that Ms. Lucero acts with complete disregard for the permanent injunction and even jail time she has previously done in contempt of this court," a lawyer for the Bar wrote in recent court filing.
April Floyd said that as part of last month's ruling by Kennedy, Lucero was ordered to repay her the $850.
"I don't have high hopes for getting the money back," she said. "It would be nice. But she needs to be caught. I don't know how many people she has done this to."