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Immigration Attorney Accuses Mt. Pleasant of Caving to Prejudices

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The house at 12 Armand Place in Valhalla where the daughter of the now deceased owner, who is an immigration attorney, has been ordered to no longer have clients visit the home office because she is in violation of Mount Pleasant’s Town Code.

A Mount Pleasant immigration attorney has accused the town and some neighbors of preventing her from meeting clients at her recently-deceased father’s home office because she serves an overwhelmingly Black clientele.

Frances Sorrentino made the explosive allegation after the town informed her that she was violating the Mount Pleasant Town Code by continuing to use the residence at 12 Armand Place in Valhalla as a professional office.

Sorrentino said she was informed that she could no longer have clients come to the house just three days after the death of her father, Dominick Sorrentino, on May 28 at 101 years old. Her father had practiced out of the house for roughly 40 years, which increasingly became focused on immigration law, she said.

However, under the code, a person can only use a private residence as a professional office if they own the house and they use it as their primary residence, town officials told The Examiner. Sorrentino said while she is the inheritor of the house as outlined in her father’s will, it will take months, if not longer, before she is able to have her name on the house’s deed as the owner. She also lives in a condominium elsewhere in Mount Pleasant.

Since the overwhelming percentage of clients are asylum seekers from countries in west Africa, she alleged that the town sprang into action after multiple complaints from other residents on the block, including one resident who was allegedly scared for their life, she said.

“They were sitting on my curb,” said Sorrentino, referring to clients who had appointments but had arrived early and waited outside. “They weren’t doing anything. Their only crime was being Black. So they shut us down.”

Last Wednesday, Supervisor Carl Fulgenzi strenuously defended the town’s actions, saying that it was enforcing the code and protecting the character of the neighborhood. There have been repeated reports of multiple vehicles parked outside the house, located near the end of a cul-de-sac, with people sitting or lying on the lawn.

Fulgenzi said he met with several residents last week with concerns about the number of people that have been congregating on the street. He adamantly argued that the individuals’ race or nationality had nothing to do with the town’s actions.

“It’s all to preserve the character of the community,” Fulgenzi said. “It has nothing to do with nationalities or anything like that. It’s not just the way it was designed, the code. The code was not designed for that. Successful lawyers, doctors, dentists have been working out of their homes for many, many years and it’s never been an issue.”

Sorrentino said there are residents on the block who have confided to her that the situation has not been a problem, some having been her father’s neighbor for many years.

She recently posted a note at the bottom of the driveway at her father’s home informing her clients not come to the house anymore unless the issue is resolved.

The notice posted by attorney Frances Sorrentino at the bottom of the driveway at 12 Armand Place instructing her clients to no longer visit the house.

“Complaints have been made by our neighbors regarding people of color coming to this street and our office. These complaints are vile and do not represent our beliefs,” the note stated. “We are still open and working on your cases but we may not have clients enter our office. Please call us or text us instead.”

But Fulgenzi responded that just before the start of the holiday weekend Sorrentino has failed to comply with the town directive, continuing to have people come to the property. The Building Department has issued another notice of violation.

“If the deed was in her name, she’d have the right to continue the operation,” he said. “But that’s not the case.”

Furthermore, any suggestions that Mount Pleasant may be enforcing the code more vigorously or is anti-immigrant because of its ongoing litigation against the JCCA for trying to house up to 25 unaccompanied migrant children at its campus is off-base, Fulgenzi said.

“If you want to use that in her defense, which has nothing to do with this property, we’ve had residents on that street come in and complain,” Fulgenzi said. “I had a meeting (last Wednesday) with three or four of them and they’re very upset this could change the character of the community.”

He said the Town Board is exploring a code revision that could rein in abuses in residential neighborhoods.

Sorrentino said with her growing caseload she doesn’t have time to file an Article 78 against the town. Instead, she intends to rent an office in another community that is more welcoming.

She’s also upset that this dispute may be her father’s legacy after decades spent helping others.

“I’m so disgusted with this street,” Sorrentino said. “I mean, (recently) one of my clients got lost and she forgot which house to go to. The most important thing right now is to continue working, and these people need help, and it keeps us up at night that we’re not able to work as we want to work.”



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