EB-5 “Cash-for-Visa” Investors Sue Casino Project Linked to Former Senator Harry Reid

According to the Los Angeles Times, “[s]ixty Chinese investors,” who participated in the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program, have sued the developers and managers behind the SLS Las Vegas Hotel & Casino for failure to deliver on “promised green cards.”  According to the investors’ lawsuit, the hotel redevelopment project has “not turned a profit from day one and is currently on the verge of bankruptcy.”  “To make matter[s] worse,” the lawsuit continues, “the SLS Hotel[’s] revenue was less than 50% of what was projected so the project has not created sufficient jobs to allow all investors . . . to get green cards.”

The exaggeration of job-creation estimates and misleading advertising to foreign nationals is hardly unique to the SLS Casino.  News of the lawsuit follows the opening of two other prominent EB-5 cases.  Last week, the Securities & Exchange Commission filed a fraud lawsuit against an immigration lawyer and his firm for failing to disclose to clients that the firm was receiving substantial commissions on EB-5 transactions—“at least $1.6 million . . . from no less than six regional centers[.]”  Also, in late November, The Washington Times reported that a group of thirty-two Chinese investors had filed suit against outgoing-Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, and his former business partners behind GreenTech Automotive, for perpetrating a “$120 million scam.”  Just like the SLS Casino, GreenTech failed to create promised jobs, leaving immigrant investors to face revocation of their visas and possible deportation.

Entirely absent from the Los Angeles Times’s report, however, is the crony connection between the casino project and former U.S. Senator Harry Reid.  In December 2013, CoA Institute filed a request for investigation with the Senate Select Committee on Ethics after learning that Reid contacted officials at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services—including then-Director Alejandro Mayorkas—in an attempt to influence and expedite the approval of EB-5 visa applications that had been flagged for “suspicious financial activity.”  The Senate Ethics Committee ignored CoA Institute’s request, claiming that it never received a copy despite evidence to the contrary.  And the motivation for Reid’s intervention?  His son, Rory Reid, and Rory’s law firm, Lionel, Sawyer & Collins P.C., were legal counsel to the SLS Casino, which itself was a major contributor to the Democratic Party and its candidates.

CoA Institute’s concerns about the SLS Casino and Senator Reid’s inappropriate intervention were confirmed in March 2015 when the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General released a report detailing the discomfort of career staff with the favoritism toward Senator Reid.  In response, a defiant Reid dismissed agency whistleblowers who had a problem with his lobbying as a “bunch of whiners.”  “If I had to do it over again, I would . . . [and] I would probably be stronger than I was,” he claimed.

Such rampant abuse and blatant politicization in the administration of the EB-5 program is one reason why CoA Institute has called for the end of the “cash-for-visa” regime all together.  Too many politicians have hijacked the system to enrich themselves and others close to them.  Such preferential treatment skews the marketplace and unfairly results in American taxpayers underwriting speculative business ventures that only profit so long as they have advantageous political connections.

Ryan P. Mulvey is Counsel at Cause of Action Institute

It’s Time to End the Federal Government’s Cash-for-Visas Program

The Washington Post rightly called on the Trump Administration yesterday to end the government’s controversial EB-5 visa regime and, in particular, its Regional Center Program, which was recently extended until the end of September 2017. In most cases, the “Immigrant Investor Program,” or Employment-Based Preference Five (“EB-5”) cash-for-visa program, permits foreign nationals to apply for a conditional visa by investing $500,000 in an area of “high unemployment.”  Once certain job creation requirements are satisfied, the visa holder can apply for a green card (i.e., for permanent residence).  Although advocates contend that EB-5 is good for the economy, the program has been beset with controversy.  Most recently, President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, came under scrutiny for his family’s efforts to “push” EB-5 visas to wealthy Chinese investors.

Cause of Action Institute’s (“CoA Institute”) investigation into various aspects of the EB-5 cash-for-visa program and the Regional Center Program have shown that these initiatives are continually abused for political or fraudulent purposes—a fact now acknowledged by the Government Accountability Office.

  • CoA Institute published a comprehensive report detailing how Virginia Governor Terry McAullife’s former company, GreenTech Automotive, used his political connections to garner millions of taxpayer dollars in loans and tax incentives. GreenTech remains embroiled in an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission for its involvement with EB-5. The Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security reported that McAuliffe and friends—including Anthony Rodham, brother of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—benefited from political favoritism in the administration of the visa program.
  • CoA Institute’s report on Forest City Enterprises explained how corporate interests and state and local government worked together to take advantage of weak and ambiguous regulations governing EB-5—manipulating census data to create “targeted employment areas” and relying on questionable job prediction models to meet green card conditions. CoA Institute also discovered that Forest City contracted the same immigration lawyer and economist as GreenTech.
  • CoA Institute filed an ethics complaint against former Senator Harry Reid, who contacted officials at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in an attempt to influence the approval of EB-5 visa applications for a casino development project owned by Reid’s donors and represented by his son. The Senate Ethics Committee ignored the request, claiming that it never received a copy despite evidence to the contrary.
  • In the wake of the DHS Inspector General’s report, CoA Institute called on the Department of Justice to investigate a number of government officials for violation of federal laws.

Simply stated, the EB-5 Program operates as a cash-for-visa scheme. Whatever economic advantage it might offer is outweighed by the corruption it engenders and negative influence it has on national security and good government.  Congress should end the program or work to reform its governing rules to prevent continued abuse by the political class.

Ryan Mulvey is Counsel at Cause of Action Institute