Feds raid San Gabriel, Arcadia locations over visa-fraud scheme involving criminals on China’s most-wanted list

Feds raid San Gabriel, Arcadia locations over visa-fraud scheme involving criminals on China’s most-wanted list

 EB-5 Visa, EB5 Visa, EB-5 Investment

The FBI and federal immigration agents on Wednesday searched a hotel and two homes in the San Gabriel Valley for evidence related to an alleged $50 million visa fraud scheme that gave green cards to Chinese nationals, including criminals on China’s most wanted list.

Agents served search warrants at an office located at the Hilton hotel at 225 West Valley Blvd. in San Gabriel, a house in a gated community in the 700 block of Carriage House Drive in Arcadia and a townhouse on Larry Beard Drive in South El Monte.

Officials said they believed that the alleged scheme that began in 2008 bilked investors through the EB-5 visa program, which allows foreigners to get a green card in exchange for investing at least $500,000 in an American business that must also create 10 new jobs.

 EB-5 Visa, EB5 Visa, EB-5 Investment

FBI Special Agent Gary Chen alleged that Victoria Chan, an attorney who lives in South El Monte, along with her father, Tat Chan, exploited the visa program by persuading over 100 Chinese nationals to invest more than $50 million through a fund operated out of offices on the ground floor of the Hilton in San Gabriel, according to the 113-page affidavit filed in support of the search warrants.

But instead of investing the money with American businesses, Chen said the suspects spent the money on personal items, cars and homes. They are believed to have bought more than a dozen residences in cities across Southern California, including Diamond Bar, Arcadia, Bradbury, Rancho Cucamonga and Riverside. Five of the nine homes are worth millions.

Chen said the duo’s fund, identified as the California Investment Immigration Fund LLC in the affidavit, and other related companies refunded investors while their immigration petitions were pending, a violation of the EB-5 visa program.

 EB-5 Visa, EB5 Visa, EB-5 Investment

“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 (full-time) American jobs created,” Chen wrote in the affidavit.

Neither Victoria nor Tat Chan were arrested or charged with any crimes Wednesday. Officials also did not plan to arrest them, said FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller. The FBI simply intended to carry out searches, she said.

“This is a long-running investigation,” Eimiller said. “We are still gathering evidence. It’s very complex. There are a lot of moving parts.”

Virginia Kice, spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said no charges have been filed at this point.

Several FBI agents crowded into the California Investment Immigration Fund office on Wednesday as they searched for evidence, packing away stacks of documents in boxes that they ferried outside to their vehicles parked outside the Hilton.

 EB-5 Visa, EB5 Visa, EB-5 Investment

According to the affidavit, the Chans registered at least six businesses to the West Valley Boulevard address. Officials said they were used to pool millions of dollars in EB-5 investor funds. An additional two other businesses, identified as CIIF Hotel Group LP and CIIF Investment Group LP, were registered to an apartment in Garden Grove on Chapman Avenue in a complex called Chapman Commons.

A call Wednesday to the Garden Grove address was answered, but the man who picked up the phone hung up after he was asked if he knew Victoria Chan. He answered again on a second call but said he did not know anything about Victoria Chan or the CIIF Hotel Group.

Eimiller said officials hoped the news of the search warrants would encourage other witnesses to come forward. She declined to comment further.

The searches are the latest development in a joint probe by the FBI and Homeland Security Investigations that began in 2013 targeting CIIF, which has an office in the first floor of the San Gabriel Hilton.

 EB-5 Visa, EB5 Visa, EB-5 Investment

According to the affidavit, a photograph in a CIIF brochure identified Tat Chan’s companion, Fang Zeng, as the president and Tat Chan as general manager. But former employees told agents Tat Chan is president of CIIF, Victoria Chan is in charge of the business operation in the U.S. and Zeng also worked at CIIF.

The affidavit showed federal investigators are seeking evidence of possible mail fraud, wire fraud, visa fraud and money laundering. Among the items the agents wanted seized are client files, emails, computers, cellphones, immigration records, bank records, travel-related documents, deeds, documents on real estate deals, utility and cellphone bills, records of payments and documents associated with CIIF or its related companies.

The creators of CIIF claimed the goal of the venture was to develop hotel, retail, and hospitality real estate projects. However, Chen said none of the projects proposed in Industry, Rancho Cucamonga, Ontario and Indio were ever built.

At least three of the investors who received green cards were on China’s “100 Most Wanted” fugitive list. The affidavit only identified the fugitives by their initials.

J.X., who is No. 13 on the list, was the former director of Development and Reform Commission in Wuhan. He’s accused of embezzling, abuse of power and accepting bribes. His wife, F.L., was once the deputy director of the Hubei branch of China Life Insurance Company. She’s No. 66 on the wanted list for allegedly taking bribes.

There was little information about the third fugitive, K.L., whose visa petition and documents used the same 10 full time employees for the petition filed for F.L.

Chen said it also appears CIIF fronted the $500,000 for the petitions for F.L. and K.L.

Both had the “San Gabriel Valley Chinese Cultural Center” in the 15000 block of Proctor Avenue in Industry as their investment project.

Other documents filed for K.L. and F.L. also mentioned projects at three other Industry locations — 120 Hacienda Blvd., 17500 and 17800 block of Colima Road — instead of the proposed cultural center.

Investigators checked the Hacienda Boulevard site in December and saw a vacant building with a chain-link fence. Chen said photographs of the site from 2013 to 2016 don’t show any construction work.

The property management company for the Colima Road locations told an immigration officer that CIIF missed a couple of lease payments in 2013, then tried to renegotiate for an extension on the leases.

Victoria and Tat Chan couldn’t produce the requested construction permits and a county official told investigators no permits had ever been issued to CIIF or its other related businesses, according to the affidavit.

The Chans lost the lease to the Colima Road locations.

FBI Special Agent Cathy Kramer said one employee was on site as agents arrived at the CIIF office at around 10 a.m. The employee is not a subject of the investigation.

By noon, agents were still searching for evidence in the office.

Investigators said the two-story Arcadia house was bought in Zeng’s name using investor funds. She and Tat Chan recently visited the U.S. from Jan. 29 to Feb. 12.

Tat Chan’s sons, Victor and Vic, are allegedly involved in the visa scheme, according to the affidavit.

Agent Chen said the brothers list the Arcadia home as their residence in their driver’s licenses. He said the Arcadia home was also used as the mailing address or residence address for multiple investors,

A security guard at the gated community said Wednesday that Victoria Chan was no longer there.

Investigators said Victoria Chan lives at a townhouse in a gated complex in South El Monte and is a registered owner of a Porsche sport utility vehicle and a BMW sedan. On Wednesday, two, large security cameras could be seen installed in the entryway of the residence pointed toward the walkway. There was a third camera aimed at the garage.

In the afternoon, a pair of FBI agents could been seen searching two vehicles in the garage. Another agent walked out of the townhouse while two other agents stopped reporters from approaching the home.

While authorities believe many of the “investors” in the scheme were complicit in the fraud, officials also said some of the investors may have thought the project was legitimate and were duped. Authorities are asking unwitting victims to come forward, as they may have evidence that could be useful in the ongoing investigation.

The revelation of Wednesday’s alleged fraud scheme was the second time in the past three months that federal investigators have revealed that criminals on China’s most-wanted list attempted to obtain visas through EB-5 fraud.

Jianjun Qiao, 53, is sought for committing EB-5 immigration fraud by submitting false documents to federal authorities, according to a United States Attorney’s Office statement. The former Chinese government official is a wanted man in China for embezzling nearly $4 million from a state-owned grain warehouse.

In January, Qiao’s ex-wife, Shilan Zhao, 53, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring with Qiao to commit fraud. As part of her plea, Zhao forfeited several parcels of land in Monterey Park.



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