Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Whistleblower on EB-5: "I could not identify how USCIS was holding each regional center accountable"

The U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs held a hearing 6/11/15, Blowing the Whistle on Retaliation: Accounts of Current and Former Federal Agency Whistleblowers, and one topic was EB-5, the sketchy federal program in which immigrant investors trade short-term loans for green cards (as long as the $500,000 purportedly creates ten jobs), channeling their investment through a private entity known as a regional center.

Senior Special Agent Taylor Johnson, Department of Homeland Security, Office of Investigations (DHS/HSI), was among those testifying. Some excerpts from her statement:
In 2013, after disclosing gross mismanagement, waste and fraud that threatened the general public’s safety, National Security Risks and public corruption surrounding an EB-5 project, I was subjected to a significant amount of harassment and retaliation. With the approval of my chain of command, I began investigating an EB-5 Regional Center and a US investor. Some of the violations I was investigating surrounding this EB-5 project include Title 18 statues; Major Fraud, Money Laundering, Bank and Wire fraud. In addition, I had discovered ties to Organized crime and high ranking officials and politicians, who received large campaign contributions that appeared to have facilitating the EB-5 project. I disclosed to my management and later the Office of the Inspector General, specific examples of National Security Risks associated with the EB-5 program and the project under investigation. Some of those security risk coincided with what the CIA, SEC and FBI have also reported.

During the course of my investigation, I discovered that EB-5 applicants from China, Russia, Pakistan and Malaysia had been approved in as little as 16 days and in less than a month in most. The files lacked the basic and necessary law enforcement queries, and that was evident by the Regional Centers SOF’s [source of funds] and applicant’s I-526’s. I found over 800 operational EB-5 Regional centers throughout the U.S. This is a disturbing number, since the U.S. only allows 10,000 applicants per year. I could not identify how USCIS [United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, an arm of DHS] was holding each regional center accountable. I was also unable to verify how an applicant was tracked once he or she entered the country. In addition, a complete and detailed account of the funds that went into the EB-5 project was never completed or produced after several request. During the course of my investigation it became very clear that the EB-5 program has serious security challenges.

This was all reported to my chain of command. From the on-set of the investigation, my first line supervisor began to get complaints from outside agencies and high ranking officials. As a result I was removed from the investigation, a shoddy follow-up review was conducted and then in 2013, ultimately, the investigation was shut down. This was after my chain of command was threatened with a congressional complaint.

Shortly after, I was escorted by three supervisors from my desk and out of my permanent duty station. I was not permitted to access my case file or personal items. I was alienated from my friends and colleagues, who were told by management to steer clear of me since I was facing criminal charges. I was removed from my permanent duty station and initially assigned to an office over 50 miles from my home and family, in direct violation of Title 5.
(Emphases added)

Note: it's unclear which cases Johnson was referring to, but the most high-profile ones, as reported by ABC News and then the DHS Inspector General, involve those tied to politicos Harry Reid, Terry McAuliffe, and Ed Rendell. (And Johnson has been hailed by some in conservative media.)

But Johnson's basic point--"I could not identify how USCIS was holding each regional center accountable"--applies to the broader universe of EB-5 cases/projects, including those involving Atlantic Yards.

There's been no (public) investigation by the Department of Homeland Security/USCIS despite slam-dunk evidence of lies and deception. (The complaint by the State Department was appropriate but peripheral.)

ABC asked the DHS for a response:
A spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security responded without directly addressing Johnson’s allegations, saying the agency does not comment on specific personnel matters.
“The Department of Homeland Security takes whistleblower protection very seriously and supports the rights of whistleblowers to engage in protected activity,” said Marsha Catron, a DHS spokeswoman. “Similarly, the Department takes allegations of misconduct very seriously ... When both an allegation of misconduct and a claim of whistleblower protection occur, the Department follows the law to resolve these issues appropriately.

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