Monday, November 30, 2015

Gargano, Mastroianni, and a table at Rao's; don't forget the EB-5 connection

Let's decode this story from yesterday's New York Post Page 6 gossip site, Financier fights back against claims of a Rao’s regular:
Florida financier Julian Rubinstein is fighting back after Rao’s regular Charles Gargano told us Rubinstein’s story that he bought Gargano’s Rao’s table for charity — then was stiffed — is full of baloney.
The red-sauce row thickened when Rubinstein shot back: “I researched my e-mails and found that Nick Mastroianni III — who was running for and won [Leukemia & Lymphoma Society] man of the year — got Gargano to donate the table.” Mastroianni III’s dad, Nicholas Mastroianni II, is president of US Immigration Fund, where Gargano’s executive director. “Nick provided all of Gargano’s contact info — I certainly didn’t get Gargano’s cell number from Google,” Rubinstein said.
Mastroianni III told Page 6 that Gargano did donate his Rao’s table to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, but had already promised the table to another cancer organization.

A perfect fit

Now Rao's, an impossible-to-get-into East Harlem Italian restaurant known for both its mob and law enforcement clientele, sounds like a perfect place for Gargano, former Chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, who liked to be called "Ambassador" long after he left his posting to Trinidad and Tobago.

Gargano, as I reported, has a post-government career promoting EB-5 investments, in which immigrant investors get green cards for delivering low-interest loans of $500,000--that purportedly create 10 jobs each--to real estate and other projects. Chinese investors, rich but naive, feel more confident when "government"--or in this case, former government officials--are involved.

And the U.S. Immigration Fund, run by the Mastroianni family, is responsible for both the Atlantic Yards II and Atlantic Yards III projects. Fortune magazine did an epic takedown of the sketchy history of Nicholas Mastroianni II.

Promoters of EB-5, nervous about Congressional reauthorization of key program elements, like the hashtag, #EB5isWorking. Given the sketchy nature of the program, and the clubby participants, the hashtag #EB5IsARacket strikes me as more apt.

The Rao's episode, of course, indicates no specific wrongdoing. But it does indicate the clubbiness.

As for Nick Mastroianni III becoming Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Man of the Year, well, that was for the Palm Beach chapter, as far as I can tell; there are a lot of local winners. Among his supporters were various people/firms involved in real estate; thus charity is used to put a halo over people whose business activities may raise doubts.

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