The SEC is charging a Los Angeles-based immigration lawyer, his wife, and his law firm partner with securities fraud that targeted investors who wanted to gain U.S. residency through the EB-5 Immigration investor program. The program lets immigrants apply for U.S. residency if they invest in a project that helps create jobs for workers in this country.
According to the Commission, Justin, his spouse Rebecca Lee, and Thomas Kent raised close to $11.5 million from more than twenty investors that wanted to join the program. They told investors that they would qualify to join if they invested in an ethanol plant that was going to be constructed in Kansas.
The three of them are accused of taking the money and misappropriating it for other uses. Meantime, the plant was never constructed and no jobs were created. Yet Justin, Rebecca, and Thomas allegedly continued to deceive investors so that they kept believing that the construction project was in the works.
In 2006, Thomas and Justin applied to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services seeking designation as a center under the EB-5 program. But by 2008, states the SEC complaint, it became clear that building an ethanol plant at the site they had designated in Kansas was not economically possible. Still, the Lees and Thomas concealed from the USCIS that the jobs the project was supposed to generate were never created.
The SEC says that when Justin was having financial problems, he misappropriated investor funds. He and his wife allegedly ended up misusing millions of dollars to pay for purposes that were not disclosed, including paying back other investors in unrelated offerings. The majority of those who were defrauded in the securities scam were of Korean and Chinese descent.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California has filed a parallel action against Attorney Justin Moongyu Lee.
EB-5 Program Securities Scams
Unfortunately, there are investment scams out there seeking to exploit the EB-5 Program. Last year, regulators filed charges against a couple in a Texas-based securities scheme that raised at least $5 million from customers who thought their money was going into the EB-5 program. Investors from Nigeria, Mexico, and Egypt were targeted. None of these investors even received conditional visas.
In another fraud, investors were bilked of $150 million after they agreed to invest in the construction of a hotel and a conference center. They too had hoped to become U.S. residents.
The SEC has put out an alert notifying investors that it is working to stop fraudulent securities offerings made through the immigration program. The regulator wants investors who are thinking about getting involved in an EB-5 program to do their due diligence to make sure the venture is a legitimate one and they are not being scammed.
SEC Charges L.A.-Based Immigration Attorneys With Defrauding Investors Seeking U.S. Residency, SEC, September 3, 2014
Read the SEC Complaint (PDF)
EB-5 Immigrant Investor, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
More Blog Posts:
$5M Texas-Based Securities Fraud Scam Pursued Foreign Investors Wanting US Residency Via EB-5 Program, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, October 1, 2013
SEC Files Securities Charges Against Massachusetts Company Over Pyramid Scam that Primarily Targeted Immigrants, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, April 17, 2014
Texas-Based Halliburton Settles Oil Spill Lawsuit for $1.1B, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, September 2, 2014