Correction: An earlier version of this article mischaracterized a federal program targeting immigration fraud. It is the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review that trains personnel to detect signs of fraud, not a multi-agency program that also seeks to prevent immigration fraud. Also, the multi-agency program was launched in 2011, not in 2012. The article has been corrected.

The leader of a Virginia organization for Latino immigrants faces a criminal trial this week for allegedly bilking dozens of clients out of thousands of dollars by pretending to be an attorney in federal immigration cases that went nowhere.

The case against Rose Sanchez-Canete is the latest example of what immigration attorneys and federal officials say is a growing problem: people from Latin America, Asia or Africa seeking to gain legal status through asylum or other forms of protection are turning to unscrupulous notaries public, tax preparers and nonprofit organizations promising affordable and fast results.

During the past three years, about 150 people in the Washington area have said they were tricked out of fees by a person not licensed to practice law or otherwise accredited to appear in immigration courts, said Anne Schaufele, an attorney with the Ayuda nonprofit group who works to prevent such cases of “notario fraud.”

“That is just scratching the surface,” Schaufele said. “We’re talking about hundreds and hundreds of victims just in the Washington area.”

Rose Sanchez-Canete (Fairfax County Police)

Sanchez-Canete, who has denied the allegations, is the director of the Latino Federation of Tenants Association (LAFEOTA), a group based in Alexandria that started during the 1980s. She faces four felony fraud charges and a misdemeanor charge of practicing law without a license, which could lead to as many as 40 years in prison.

Jury selection is slated to begin Monday in Fairfax County Circuit Court.

A dozen former clients are prepared to testify against Sanchez-Canete, who is not licensed to practice law, according to court documents.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Ray Morrogh’s office alleges that Sanchez-Canete led those clients and others to think that she is an immigration attorney, charging fees of as much as $5,250 for services that, in many instances, she didn’t provide.

Sanchez-Canete did not respond to requests for comment. Her attorney, Andrea Mosely, called the charges “nonsense” and characterized the matter as a dispute over what people who aren’t attorneys should be allowed to do to help immigrants.

“LAFEOTA is an organization that has offered much-needed assistance to an under-represented community,” Mosely said in a statement. “These low-cost services are vital to this community, but many organizations and individuals would prefer that the federal government limit these services so that only attorneys can charge for them.”

In court documents, Sanchez-Canete and her father, a former director of the tenants association who is now its president, contend that the organization contracted with an attorney whenever immigration cases arose.

The Sanchez-Canetes said the organization facilitates legal assistance by putting its members in contact with an attorney, according to a Virginia State Bar investigation that is part of the criminal case.

Rose Sanchez-Canete told the investigator that the fees she collected were membership fees for services that include landlord disputes, translation services and navigating government agencies for social services. She suggested to the investigator that her clients’ limited English and poor understanding of the complicated immigration process led to their being confused about her role.

Morrogh’s office and immigration attorneys who represent former tenants association clients contend that the group uses inexperienced lawyers to, essentially, sign off on legal strategies developed by Sanchez-Canete. Several of those lawyers eventually quit out of frustration, according to the criminal complaint.

In sworn affadavits, the former clients said they paid thousands of dollars in fees to the group and then either saw their immigration applications denied or never submitted.

In some instances, the association is accused of submitting applications for U.S. asylum on behalf of clients who were never qualified for that protection to fraudulently win temporary work permits for those people. U.S. immigration law allows asylum seekers to work while they await a ruling on their applications. If the applications are denied, the permission is revoked.

In one case, Sanchez-Canete allegedly sent a client to court alone after collecting $1,750 in membership fees.

“The presiding judge asked me why I was not represented by legal counsel,” the client, Carlos Andrade Garcia, said in an affidavit. “The immigration judge kindly suggested that I try to recoup back the money charged by LAFEOTA.”

Since 1996, the Virginia State Bar has investigated 10 fraud allegations against directors of the tenants association, a spokeswoman there said. All the complaints but one were dismissed because of lack of evidence and failure by witnesses to cooperate — a reflection, immigrant advocates say, of the fact that many victims in such cases fear reprisals over their illegal status.

In 1991, Sanchez-Canete’s father, Jesus, was sued for using $20,000 in rent collected in a Washington tenants strike to pay for a $600 dinner, political contributions and other costs. The D.C. Superior Court case wound up with a court-appointed trustee administering the funds.

With the number of fraud allegations increasing, regulators are working to address the problem and to offer some relief to victims.

The Justice Department’s Executive Office of Immigration Review, which oversees the nation’s 58 immigration courts, launched an anti-fraud team in 2011 with other federal agencies. Executive Office of Immigration Review trains immigration judges and law clerks to spot suspected cases of fraud.

That effort has led to 400 suspected fraud cases nationwide, said Juan P. Osuna, director of the review office.

The agency also proposed a rule that gives applicants who are suspected victims of fraud another chance at requesting legal status. It is tightening its accreditation standards for non-attorneys appearing before immigration judges.

“Fraud is sometimes hard to detect, even for trained attorneys and trained judges,” Osuna said.

Schaufele, of Ayuda, said the Washington area is fertile ground for immigration fraud because of the large number of immigrants in the region and a shortage of affordable legal options.

“Even with quite a few of us in the nonprofit community providing immigration services, we’re having to turn people away every single day,” she said. “Filling that void are some well-intentioned attorneys who are making mistakes. But we also have ill-intentioned people who are putting consumers in harm’s way, and they are reaping a lot of financial benefits.”