Va. regulators file to shut down company accused of exploiting immigrants in need of bail

Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury

State regulators are seeking a cease-and-desist order against a Virginia-grown company that’s drawn nationwide scrutiny amid allegations it exploits immigrants by charging excessive fees to secure their release from detention centers.

A filing Friday by the state Bureau of Insurance accuses Libre by Nexus, which was founded and operated out of Augusta County until earlier this year, of refusing to obtain a license to sell insurance in Virginia.

“Licensure and oversight by the Bureau are especially important when the agents are dealing with vulnerable customers – such as immigrant detainees – who are navigating difficult situations, likely do not understand the underlying immigration or insurance systems, may not be able to fully comprehend contracts or other legal documents presented and may speak a different language (or dialect) than the agents,” the bureau wrote.

The company, which portrays itself as an advocate for immigrant families, says it helps connect people being held in ICE detention centers with bonds while they await trial. As a condition, the immigrants often agree to pay the company $420 a month and wear a GPS ankle monitor.

Libre contends it’s not acting as an insurance company or agent and will vigorously defend itself, according to Virginia Lawyers Weekly, which first reported the regulatory action: “Libre by Nexus actually buys insurance products and services as part of our ground breaking program to reunite families to make immigration bonds more accessible and affordable. We do this by contracting with insurance providers and bondsmen that would otherwise not provide an immigration bond without the program provided by Libre by Nexus,” the company told the publication.

A hearing has been scheduled for March 10.

The action is the latest in series of investigations and lawsuits against the company. Last year, The Washington Post reported the company “is the subject of probes by the attorneys general of Virginia, New York and Washington state, according to state and federal court records.” It is also facing an investigation by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the paper reports.

In August, the company said it had reached a settlement with authorities in Washington in which it agreed to issue refund 140 clients and waive $2.7 million in past due fees.

The same month, a lawsuit filed by the Legal Aid Justice Center accused the company of evading “regulations imposed on bail companies that would bar it from engaging in many of its practices,” according to the Associated Press.

“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.