The owner of a California business specializing in a controversial government-sponsored visa program for wealthy foreigners was charged along with two associates Tuesday in connection with a $110 million scheme to defraud investors.
Thomas Henderson, owner of the San Francisco Regional Center, a self-styled “market leader in the EB-5 business,” and two other men — Peter Hu of China and Cooper Lee — are accused of abusing the visa program and jeopardizing the creation of more than 2,000 jobs in Northern California.
The three men face charges of conspiring to misappropriate foreign investor funds; lying to foreign investors about their use of their funds; and making false statements to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS).
The EB-5 program is administered by USCIS. Under the program, foreign nationals may receive permanent residency, commonly known as a green card, by investing a minimum of $1 million in certain American businesses that create jobs. In poor areas, the minimum required investment to obtain an EB-5 visa is $500,000.
The Trump administration is seeking to raise the minimum required amounts under the program, which is sometimes derided as “green cards for cash.”
On its website, the San Francisco Regional Center boasts that it is the only USCIS-designated organization in Northern California to have secured all its investors “conditional” permanent residency.
According to the Justice Department, from 2011 to 2017, Henderson and Hu used the center to raise more than $110 million from more than 200 foreign investors.
Henderson, aided by Hu and Lee, then allegedly diverted funds raised for one business and used them for other purposes, according to the Justice Department. In one case, Henderson allegedly took more than $17 million of the $21 million raised for one project and spent it partly on other money-losing projects, according to the indictment.
“The FBI is committed to assisting our local partners in protecting the integrity of our visa processes,” said FBI San Francisco Special Agent in Charge John F. Bennett. “Businesses seeking to exploit these processes should know that we are vigilant and that we will work to bring them to justice.”
Henderson and Lee were arrested Tuesday morning. Hu has not been arrested. The three face multiple charges of wire fraud, conspiracy to commit offenses against the United States, and making false statements.