Muhammad Fokra, a local attorney accused of cheating scores of migrant workers
and Palestinians out of thousands of dollars, has been ordered by a Tel Aviv
court to refund his clients. The civil suit against Fokra was filed by attorney
David Ben-Haim, who represented 25 migrant laborers from the Philippines, Sri
Lanka, Romania and Turkey. They are thought to be just the tip of the
Dozens, if not hundreds, of other migrant workers are believed
to have fallen victim to the scam.
Almost all tell a similar story. Most
had either lost or overstayed their work visas.
And Fokra, who keeps an
office in Tel Aviv’s Central Bus Station – a popular meeting place for
workers – promised to protect them from deportation.
After they’d paid
between $3,000 and $4,000, Fokra provided his clients, most of whom
or write Hebrew, with court documents. According to his clients, Fokra
the paperwork meant they could stay in Israel and continue to work for
Some say Fokra referred to it as a “protection visa” – a
category that does not exist.
In reality, the papers said only that Fokra
had filed suit against the Ministry of Interior and other government
his clients’ behalf. In most instances, judges dismissed the cases
had skipped the crucial first step of applying for residency for his
Fokra himself closed some of the cases.
In December of 2007, Jesus
Ocampo, an undocumented worker who was not part of Ben-Haim’s suit, paid
$3,000 for papers he believed would protect him from deportation.
told me: ‘If [immigration police] stop you, you show them that
they can’t touch you,” Ocampo recalled. Like Fokra’s other clients,
reports that he paid cash and did not receive receipts.
later, an acquaintance, who was also a client of Fokra’s and carried
similar to Ocampo’s, was deported. Frightened, Ocampo tried to get in
his attorney. His calls went unanswered and unreturned.
Peter Palalon is
a domestic helper included in Ben-Haim’s suit against Fokra.
worked legally as a caregiver until his employer died several years
“After that, I am hiding,” Palalon says, referring to the state
policy that strips a migrant laborer of his visa upon his employer’s
“That’s why I went to Fokra,” Palalon said. “I thought that I will
While some workers drained their savings or borrowed from
friends to pay Fokra, Palalon took out high-interest loans from a local
“I paid a lot of money,” Palalon said, explaining that he trusted
Fokra because he was an attorney. “I thought he was a good man.”
several weeks later, Palalon discovered that the documents Fokra had
To bolster his civil case against Fokra, Ben-Haim
compared Fokra’s handling of two very different clients – one with a
visa, the other an undocumented laborer residing in Israel
“For both, Fokra filed almost the exact same case – proof that
he didn’t care about the specific legal circumstances of the [client],”
said. He explained that Fokra filed only to “get the legal fees.”
ruling against Fokra, Justice Oshri Frost-Frenkel wrote: “The defendant
presented petitions in the names of clients who didn’t need petitions;
had to do was refer them to the Ministry of the Interior for a residency
The defendant presented petitions without thinking, without checking the
status of the client first. He worked without fulfilling the
these petitions, and all that to collect the fees from his
According to Frost-Frenkel, it all added up to a “clear method
of collecting fees for [doing] nothing, without any need, and exploiting
distressed foreign workers, [people] who don’t understand the language
afraid of being deported from [Israel].”
She continued: “The defendant
took advantage of their blind faith in him as a lawyer in a state that
foreign to them, promising them that those documents would without a
them] stay in the country…” Frost-Frenkel has ordered Fokra to return
he collected from his clients.
He must also pay interest on the
Reflecting on the verdict, Ben-Haim commented, “I honestly believe
that justice has been served here.”
Both Palalon and Ocampo were pleased
to hear the results.
“I am happy, but I don’t know when I’ll get the
money,” Palalon said, adding that recovering the fees he paid to Fokra
important to him.
In a telephone interview from the Philippines, Ocampo,
who chose to return home over a year ago, said: “This is justice for me
he took a lot of money not only from me, but from all [his
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post
Fokra insisted that he
represented his clients to the best of his ability. “I went to court for
“I’m going to appeal [the decision],” he added. “They cannot
prove this case.”