Crime

UPDATE: FBI and ICE Raids Homes and CIIF/Harris Law Group Wednesday Morning

– Courtesy photo / Immigration and Customs Enforcement

 

Agents Raid multiple locations in San Gabriel Valley in Connection with EB5 Visa Fraud

 

By Terry Miller

ICE and FBI agents Wednesday raided two San Gabriel Valley homes as well as offices at the San Gabriel Hilton. At least three people who are suspected in a multi-million dollar visa and financial fraud investigation.

A 136 page affidavit obtained by this newspaper (application for Search warrant) was served this morning on a suite at the San Gabriel Hilton Hotel, 225 West Valley Blvd. in an effort to collect evidence of a crime, contraband and related information pertaining to EB5 Visa fraud.

The raids come as “people with boatloads of money,” as some describe the Asian developments in San Gabriel Valley…especially Arcadia and San Gabriel…. have found new homes and businesses in the community in recent years from China, causing home values to soar and fueling a boom in upscale development catering to wealthy visitors from the mainland as well as Taiwan (ROC).

In fact, in Arcadia alone, McMansions {gargantuan home development} have been a huge headache for city council and long-time residents who say there is way too much development for what is considered a “Community of Homes.”

The money led to an opulent life of multimillion-dollar homes and high-priced cars for the alleged architects of the scam— Victoria Chan, an attorney; Tat Chan, her father; and Fang Zeng, the father’s friend.

One of the homes raided on Wednesday was in gated multimillion dollar Anoakia Estates on the corner of Baldwin and Foothill Blvd in Arcadia, ironically once the home of Arcadia founder, Lucky Baldwin’s daughter where it is believed Baldwin started horse racing that ultimately became Santa Anita racetrack. City officials, sadly, had the historic home razed in 1999 and subsequently giant homes were to replace the once elegant estate.  A sure bet indeed! However, it was the FBI that hit the Trifecta this time.

Media attempted to cover that sweep but were thwarted by a guard and locked gates.

Wednesday’s raids centered on the small office of the California Investment Immigration Fund — a corporation the Chans set up a decade ago under the visa program to solicit investors. That office was located inside the Hilton, San Gabriel.

Those targeted by the FBI are believed to have collected as much as $50 million in bogus investments from dozens of Chinese people who were granted permission to live in the United States in exchange for the money.

Teams of federal agents served search warrants on properties tied to three suspects, all Chinese nationals, who investigators believe ran a scam involving a little-known type of immigration visa reserved for high-end investors.

The government issues visas through its Immigrant Investor Program. To qualify for the visas, immigrants must invest at least $500,000 into business ventures in the U.S. that are designed to create jobs. If and when a project ultimately meets the visa requirements, the investors will be granted permanent legal residence {green card} to remain in the U.S.

In recent years the EB5 program has come under considerable scrutiny from congress and some question, especially now, if the program should even exist.

USCIS administers the EB-5 Program. Under this program, entrepreneurs (and their spouses and unmarried children under 21) are eligible to apply for a green card (permanent residence) if they:

Make the necessary investment in a commercial enterprise in the United States; and

Plan to create or preserve 10 permanent full-time jobs for qualified U.S. workers.

This program is known as EB-5 for the name of the employment-based fifth preference visa that participants receive.
Congress created the EB-5 Program in 1990 to stimulate the U.S. economy through job creation and capital investment by foreign investors. In 1992, Congress created the Immigrant Investor Program, also known as the Regional Center Program. This sets aside EB-5 visas for participants who invest in commercial enterprises associated with regional centers approved by USCIS based on proposals for promoting economic growth.

According to records, 1,279 regional centers were approved for the EB5 Investor program as of Feb. 2017.

Despite questionable tactics and potential fraud, in 2016 the GOP controlled Congress quietly renewed the program.

The question facing Congress was whether to preserve a part of the program known as regional centers, such as the one raided Wednesday.

According to a report in The Atlantic, “…these centers are essentially development projects through which foreigners pool their money, enabling them to get their visas.”

The provision that set up regional centers, which have become by far the most popular way place for investors to put their money, was set to expire September 30. Some observers thought this was a good thing, since regional centers were supposed to encourage investment in rural and high unemployment areas, but instead were helping to fund projects in wealthy areas such as Arcadia and San Gabriel.

“The EB-5 regional center program has been plagued by fraud and abuse,” said Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, according to the Washington Times. “It poses significant national security risks. There are serious allegations that the program may be facilitating terrorist travel, economic espionage, money laundering and investment fraud,” he added. The program appears to be most frequently used by wealthy Chinese seeking a foothold in the United States. In 2014, China-born investors took 9,128 of the EB-5 visas issued that year, which is 85.4 percent of the 10,692 total, says one report.

April 6, 2017

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