Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Fortune: "The tangled past of the hottest money-raiser in America's visa-for-sale program" (+ next step for inquiry)

Fortune Magazine's Peter Elkind and Marty Jones, who produced the tough investigation of the EB-5 immigrant investor program in a July cover story (my comments), today offers The tangled past of the hottest money-raiser in America's visa-for-sale program.

And yes, Atlantic Yards is part of it, as is the Nassau Coliseum.

They write:
In recent years, the EB-5 visa program, which essentially allows wealthy foreigners to buy U.S. citizenship by investing $500,000 in a project that creates U.S. jobs, has exploded: The number of visas granted under the program has more than doubled since 2009. As that has happened, the program has taken on more and more glamorous, big-budget projects and the controversy surrounding it has increased...
It would be hard to find a figure who has risen faster in this burgeoning realm than Nicholas Mastroianni, II. In just four years, he has developed a lucrative role raising money for marquee projects such as Atlantic Yards, the giant Brooklyn development anchored by the Barclays Center, home of the NBA’s Nets. Forest City Ratner, which is developing Atlantic Yards, has also retained Mastroianni to raise EB-5 money for its renovation of the Nassau Coliseum, home of the NHL’s Islanders. Other Mastroianni clients include the developers of three large Manhattan projects: the Charles, a 31-story condominium tower on the Upper East Side where the penthouse reportedly sold for $38 million; Bryant Park, a 32-story midtown Manhattan building with a luxury hotel and condos developed by HFZ Capital Group; and 855 Avenue of the Americas, a 41-story mixed-use edifice being developed by the Durst Organization.
All told, Mastroianni’s website boasts of involvement with $5.5 billion in development projects over the years, funded with $1.4 billion in EB-5 money, resulting in “40,000 jobs created.” Those are massive sums given that the entire EB-5 system raised a total of about $1.8 billion last year. Forest City Ratner CEO MaryAnne Gilmartin calls Mastroianni the “ ‘go-to’ leader in the field of EB-5 funding.”
Long history of legal problems, but new accolades

And here's the thing:
To call Mastroianni’s rise improbable would be an understatement. A squarely built 50-year-old with a Long Island accent, Mastroianni has a long history of legal problems, failed ventures, and unpaid debts—which have continued even as his professional fortunes have turned sharply upward—leaving a legacy of conflicts, judgments, and entanglements.
The article delves into all that, including Mastroianni's significant political contributions in support of EB--5. In response to the investigation, he hired a crisis communications firm to collect accolades for him; would you believe that Gilmartin has “witnessed first-hand his competence and collaborative talents."

What's missing: the deceptions in China

This article goes far to suggest how people with questionable pasts in the United States have reinvented themselves and gotten rich off EB-5. (Same for one of the "Billboard Boys" involved in the first round of Atlantic Yards fundraising.)

What it doesn't do--and what can be the subject of more investigation--is show how, in the loosely regulated world of EB-5 fundraising in China, they can get away with pushing the envelope on truth, as I described earlier this year in coverage of the second round of EB-5 fundraising for Atlantic Yards.

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