USCIS's Administrative Appeals Office (AAO) has upheld the Agency's earlier denial of El Monte to retain its EB-5 Visa Regional Center designation. In an update from a story that we reported on last year Chaotic EB5 Visa Project Brings Down El Monte Regional Center this decision should close what has been possibly the most bizarre chapter in the history of USCIS EB-5 Regional Center designations:
Here are excerpts from the ruling:
DISCUSSION: The Chief, Service Center Operations, approved the proposal for designation as a regional center and a subsequent amendment request. The Director, California Service Center, issued a notice of intent to terminate and subsequently terminated the applicant's designation as a regional center. The matter is now before the Administrative Appeals Office (AAO) on appeal. The appeal will be dismissed.
On June 5, 2008, the applicant, TV, LLC, sought designation as the "EI Monte Regional Center" pursuant to section 61O(c) of the Departments of Commerce, Justice and State, the Judiciary, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 1993, Pub. L. No. 102-395, 106 Stat. 1874 (1992), as amended by section 116 of Pub. L. No. 105-119, 111 Stat. 2440 (1997); section 402 of Pub. L. No. 106-396, 114 Stat. 1637 (2000) and section 11037 ofPub. L. No. 107-273, 116 Stat. 1758 (2002).
At the outset it is necessary to identify the affected party in this matter. TV, LLC filed the initial proposal claiming on page 2 of the Executive Summary that the "El Monte Regional Center will establish a number of LLCs ... that will serve as the investment entities" and that "TV, LLC will act as the President and Managing Member of all LLCs."
The chief addressed the July 25, 2008 approval notice to TV, LLC as the applicant, designating the regional center as the "El Monte Regional Center." In 2010, the applicant submitted a report on the El Monte Incubator, LP project, stating on page 6, that the EI Monte Regional Center, LLC (EMRC, LLC) "was formed to work with TV, LLC as a co General Partner."
The record contains no evidence that "El Monte Regional Center" existed as an organized or incorporated entity at the time of filing. For purposes of this decision, "the applicant" in this decision refers to TV, LLC despite the regional center's designation as the "El Monte Regional Center."
The director terminated the applicant's designation after determining that the applicant no longer served the purpose of promoting economic growth. The applicant filed the instant appeal.
The AAO will dismiss the appeal. Specifically, the AAO finds that the director incorrectly rejected the G-28, Notice of Appearance as Attorney or Accredited Representative, that Bin Ling Lei signed on August 30, 2011. Regarding the director's decision not to grant an extension of time to respond to the notice of intent to terminate, there is no legal authority that would require or even allow the director to provide such an extension: Since the applicant failed to respond within the required time, USCIS will not consider new evidence on appeal.
Background: THE TRANSIT VILLAGE PROJECT
In September 2007, the City of El Monte adopted the El Monte Transit Village Specific Plan, with the intention of creating a transit-oriented urban village adjacent to the downtown. The Transit Village in El Monte, CA is located immediately to the southwest of Downtown El Monte, at the intersection of Santa Anita Avenue and Interstate 10. The El Monte Transit Center is a stop for many buses connecting to Downtown Los Angeles via the El Monte Busway on Interstate 10.
Uses in the 61-acre transit village area presently include the Transit Center and surface parking, storage sites for the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), Pioneer Park and Fletcher Park (City-operated public parks with ball fields and other recreational space), the City Maintenance Yard and Fire Station, and several privately owned parcels with nonresidential uses. In addition to promoting transit-oriented development near the Transit Center, the El Monte Transit Village plans include improving parks and creating a public riverside walk along a portion of the Rio Hondo, which is just to the west of the site.
During the initial 1986 process, the Community Redevelopment Agency purchased a 3-½ acre church property at the corner of Santa Anita Avenue and Interstate 10, and relocated the existing church to another site in the City. When plans for the transit village fell through, the Agency could not afford to continue paying for this costly land acquisition and relocation. Ultimately the Agency sold the site to an auto dealership, which is still an active use today.
The planning process was renewed in 2004 when the El Monte Community Redevelopment Agency was approached by a private property owner / developer known as the Titan Group,
who was interested in undertaking a study of the area?s development potential. One year later the City created a new agreement with Caltrans and Metro, and initiated the process of
creating a transit village specific plan. Over the next several years, the plan would evolve with significant community input and environmental review. In September 2007, the plan and
program level Environmental Impact Report were approved by the City Council. At build-out, the Transit Village Specific Plan could add over 1,800 housing units, 561,000 square feet of retail and a child development center.
Fraud, Embezzlements, Lawsuits, FBI & USCIS
Transit Village LLC had proposed to the the City of El Monte a $1 Bn. commercial and residential development surrounding the existing MTA regional bus station in a public private partnership. But after three years of trying to raise funds from China, TV LLC was only able to convince two Chinese foreign nationals who invested $1 Mio. Then, the two principals of Titan Development Group (the predecessor to TV LLC) John Leung and Jean Lang were arrested on charges of embezzlement and fraud. The City then severed ties with TV LLC, but the split was not amicable.
TV LLC was then acquired by Chinese developer Bang Zhao Lin?s Cross Ocean Holdings who has sued the El Monte for $18 Mio. for losses incurred in developing the project and costs associated with the promotion of the project and fundraising. The City has filed a countersuit claiming that funds that were granted for the development were misused and Federal agencies such as the FBI and HUD are also conducting further investigations.
Attorneys for the City of El Monte are claiming that Lin?s Cross Ocean Holdings is simply a front to defraud Chinese nationals of their investment using the Transit Village project as a front and then appropriating the funds to other uses. They point to a case in San Bruno where three Chinese invested $3 Mio. into a property promoted by middlemen to be a Chinese restaurant which would be used to secure the EB-5 visas but then defendants changed the project and gave the money to a different developer. The investor?s petitions for residency were later denied and when seeking the return on their investment were given stories but no money. In the lawsuit, they claimed that one of the promoters, Sammy Lee, even faked his own death to avoid accounting for the loss, at a Karaoke bar.
The San Bruno Chinese restaurant lawsuit also claims that Jenny Pei Lin, who is an executive the the San Francisco based Cross Ocean Holdings and one of the new majority owners of TV LLC, is in hiding but had worked to defraud investors.
According to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, El Monte attorney Isabel Birrueta says these cases should cause red flags to be raised noting that TV LLC representatives continue to promote the Transit Village project in China, even using the City?s official seal to convince them of the support they have from the City of El Monte.
"Foreign investors were swindled into investing into a project that was doomed for failure. Our belief is the reason they filed a complaint against the city is to continue to allege they have an interest in the project so they can continue to defraud foreign investors."
For the two Chinese who invested in the El Monte project their prospects of obtaining residency or their investment back are close to zero.
"If (the applicant) is in the process at the time (the regional center) is terminated, then their application is terminated," USCIS spokeswoman Mariana Gitomer stated. ?If the investors already gave money to the developers of the project, it isn't up to the government to help them get a refund ? even if the government shuts the program down. All investments have a risk and that is between them and the regional center, as far as the money is concerned," she said.
Documents also show that TV LLC was not satisfied with pitching to Chinese nationals. One of their affiliates is the Pacific Access Group and was responsible for marketing the project to Korean investors, of which at least one woman invested and she may be facing removal should her I-829 petition for residency be denied.
It Gets Weirder
Earlier last year, Bang Zhao Lin Chairman of Green El Monte Investment Inc. and the new majority owner of TV LLC and a well known Chinese developer showed up at a Chamber of Commerce event in El Monte handing out $1,000 checks to local community groups. TV LLC?s attorney Ben Reznick stated that the company still has the rights to develop the project and if the City does not allow it to, it will sue. City officials stayed away from the event and one local charity refused the donation.
Move forward several months and the City has brought forward a suit naming three companies and 13 people in a civil action that laid out a scheme to defraud the city, state and federal government of public funds. The countersuit, which was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, was in response to a suit filed by TV LLC. The lawsuit claims that TV LLC principals John Leung and Jean Lang created and controlled a network of companies whose sole purpose was to avoid liability and hide ?fraudulent business schemes and criminal activity."
A former City Mayor, Bart Doyle and attorney Michael Stein have also been implicated as well. The lawsuit alleges that Stein had a financial interest in TV LLC through a subsidiary company but failed to disclose that when issuing the legal opinion used to secure the $4 Mio. loan from HUD. Stein certified that the documents forged by Leung and Lang were authentic, upon which the City released the funds.
The lawsuit also claims that TV LLC promoters used the City Seal without consent to solicit EB-5 investors.
Senior Deputy City Attorney Dave Gondek said of TV LLC?s promotion "Questionable investment, overselling the engagement of state and local government, not disclosing accurately the risk of investment ? those kinds of problems are a concern not only to people making the investments, but to the U.S. and El Monte because we want people to have confidence in the United States...without that, we are going to have a crisis of confidence here and we are going to have as much credibility as North Korea & Cuba."
docs/El Monte Plan.pdf