BY AMY TAXIN
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
LOS ANGELES (AP)— Federal authorities on Wednesday raided a Los Angeles-area business suspected of cheating the U.S. government visa program to obtain green cards for wealthy Chinese investors.
Investigators searched the office of the California Investment Immigration Fund in San Gabriel as part of the fraud investigation.
Under a U.S. government program, foreign investors who commit at least half a million dollars to job-creating projects in designated areas can apply to obtain green cards.
The California fund sought green cards for more than 100 Chinese investors for construction projects that were never built, according to federal court filings.
"As a result of the fraudulent scheme, many foreign nationals were able to improperly obtain U.S. green cards through the EB-5 visa program, even though those foreigners did not in fact truly invest in U.S. businesses, nor were new American jobs created," FBI Special Agent Gary Chen wrote in the papers.
Chen also wrote that some of the $50 million raised through the scheme was refunded to investors while their immigration applications were pending or used to buy personal homes for Victoria Chan, an attorney, and her father Tat Chan, who ran the fund.
In some instances, the fund fronted the money for people who were not legitimate investors, he wrote.
In addition, at least three investors who obtained green cards through the program were fugitives wanted by the Chinese government, Chen wrote.
A message left at the fund's office seeking comment was not immediately returned. Multiple email messages were sent to addresses for Victoria Chan.
The company claims on its website to focus on developing hotels, retail, mixed-use residential and senior living facilities.
No charges were filed Wednesday and no arrests were expected, said Laura Eimiller, an FBI spokeswoman.
The investigation dates back at least four years, when Homeland Security investigators looked into one of the listed project sites. The site appeared the same a few months ago and no construction permits had been pulled, Chen wrote.
The probe in California comes as U.S. lawmakers weigh proposed changes to the visa program that has grown popular among wealthy foreigners seeking to move to the U.S. but faces widespread criticism amid allegations of fraud and misuse.
The EB-5 program, which began more than two decades ago, lets foreigners pool their investments through so-called regional centers aimed at boosting economic growth in exchange for green cards.
As of last year, more than 800 centers had been approved to participate in the program, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
Critics say many of the investments purportedly aimed at assisting poor areas of the U.S. have instead wound up going to projects in more affluent neighborhoods.
In addition, programs in Vermont, South Dakota and elsewhere have been wracked by fraud scandals. Earlier this year, a man who once ran South Dakota's program was sentenced to probation and a fine after striking a deal with federal prosecutors.