Douglas Hauer, Co-Chair of the EB-5 Financing Practice and a Member of the Corporate and Securities and Immigration Practices of Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, P.C., is speaking at the North American Securities Administrators Association’s (NASAA) 2016 Corporation Finance Training. The event is taking place November 18-19 at the Westin Oaks Hotel in Houston, TX. Continue Reading Mintz Levin Attorney Douglas Hauer to Speak at NASAA 2016 Corporation Finance Training
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has just published three new decisions in connection with administrative proceedings against two well known immigration lawyers, as well as against a third lawyer. One party has allegedly earned $450,000 in commissions from one EB-5 Offeror alone. This enforcement is not surprising. Last year, we saw several immigration lawyers subject to the same proceedings and sanctions. The allegations are resoundingly familiar: Violation of Section 15(a)(1) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (the “Exchange Act”). We expect even more SEC enforcement activity in this space. Why is the SEC targeting immigration lawyers? What implications are there for all parties in an EB-5 transaction and to the industry as a whole when an EB-5 Offeror pays finder’s fees to lawyers?
Immigration lawyers are EB-5 gatekeepers
The SEC has a strong interest in prosecuting civil violations of securities laws by gatekeepers of securities markets.
Immigration lawyers are viewed as gatekeepers to the EB-5 Program. What is a gatekeeper? In the securities law context, a gatekeeper is a professional that holds a position of trust who should be looking out for the interests of a specific securities market. The idea is that the integrity of markets is kept in check by professionals charged with executing their responsibilities. Accountants, lawyers and auditors are often gatekeepers of the securities marketplace.
The SEC has the objective of keeping gatekeepers accountable. The SEC expects gatekeepers — be they accountants, lawyers or auditors to name a few — to raise red flags when there are visible issues and problems in an offering of securities. This maintains the integrity of markets and protects investors. When gatekeepers violate securities laws or engage in conduct that turns the concept of protecting investors on its head, the SEC becomes very interested in holding those individuals accountable. The idea here is that gatekeepers are front-line protectors of a marketplace. Immigration lawyers in the EB-5 industry have often taken on this role. They are often the first to be able to spot an irregularity in an EB-5 transaction. And immigration lawyers often comment on or assist with drafting documents prepared in connection with an EB-5 offering.
The SEC likes to hold out gatekeeper-violators of securities laws as examples for an industry. This is no consolation for the attorneys facing sanctions and disgorgement, but it does explain to some degree how the SEC prioritizes investigations and why immigration lawyers are of interest. Attorneys with high profiles in the EB-5 industry who are involved in producing investors for regional centers or who engage in marketing should be concerned. And so should the attorney who takes a finder’s fee from a regional center one single time. The SEC also pursues “minor violations” particularly by gatekeepers to set an example for an industry. One of the attorneys in today’s proceedings had received $37,500 in finder’s fees. This was sufficient for the SEC to pursue administrative proceedings and sanctions.
Transaction-based compensation is often not difficult for the SEC to trace and later prove
The DNA of these three recent cases is virtually identical, with the SEC finding that each of the attorneys earned transaction-based compensation for steering clients to specific EB-5 regional center projects. The SEC ordered disgorgement of unlawfully earned commissions along with interest in all three cases. One of the three attorneys also incurred a civil monetary penalty of $30,000. He is alleged to have had commissions transferred to a foreign bank account despite the fact that his business is U.S. based. In the case of one of the other attorneys, he had a “Referral Services Agreement” in place with the EB-5 regional center that paid him compensation. This means that these attorneys left their fingerprints in very identifiable places, which SEC investigators love. Continue Reading Three Immigration Lawyers Sanctioned by the SEC for Brokering EB-5 Investments
On August 11, 2016, USCIS published new processing times for I-829 petitions. The news is not good for EB-5 investors. USCIS is now taking in excess of 21 months to adjudicate I-829 petitions. This means that EB-5 investors may wait more than one or even two years for final approval of an I-829 from USCIS. The delays are unconscionable.
For those less familiar with EB-5 terminology, the term I-829 refers to the form number of the petition that an EB-5 investor files within 90 days of the expiration of his or her conditional green card status. An investor’s I-829 is supported by proof that, among other things, there has been sufficient job creation to support his or her green card case. At the I-829 stage of the process, an investor must also evidence that his or her investment has been sustained. For thousands of investors, what should be a relatively ministerial process of verifying facts has turned into a bottleneck. Continue Reading I-829 Delays Reach All-Time Record: Thousands of EB-5 Investors in Limbo at USCIS
While issuers and regional centers are the focus of EB-5 litigation right now and into the foreseeable future, if you are taking direct proceeds as a borrower in a transaction facilitated by an EB-5 regional center or issuer you need to have legal advice on the scope of your liability in a deal. Many large-scale EB-5 transactions are driven by a regional center that is facilitating a loan to a project or EB-5 borrower. Borrowers in such transactions often operate under the misconception that they are insulated from liability because they are not an issuer, and that this “insulation” means no accountability to the SEC or to investors.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The SEC may name an EB-5 borrower in a transaction as a relief defendant in a civil action against a regional center or issuer. An asset freeze, disgorgement and reputational harm, among others, are all possible outcomes if a borrower receives direct proceeds of a toxic EB-5 deal that lands in litigation. The SEC also has the power to sue persons who aid and abet a violation of the securities laws. In the EB-5 context, where borrowers may accompany a regional center on a roadshow or participate in marketing efforts, caution is warranted.
Borrowers in EB-5 transactions should have protective indemnification agreements in place before receiving EB-5 proceeds; review offering materials to ensure the accuracy of any facts represented to investors about their projects; know the background and experience of the EB-5 regional center before closing a deal; and have separate counsel from the EB-5 regional center controlling the offering process.
EB-5 regional centers and issuers take heed. The Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) is pursuing litigation against parties in several EB-5 deals. We expect the SEC to increase efforts to prosecute regional centers, issuers and broker dealers who don’t play by the rules in the EB-5 investment industry. Mintz Levin’s EB-5 Financing Practice just released an alert on limiting securities litigation risks in EB-5 transactions. This is go-to reading for anyone in the EB-5 industry. Here are the highlights of the article, along with a few of our thoughts about concerns that borrowers need to have before accepting direct proceeds in loans from EB-5 regional centers. Continue Reading Securities Law Risk Mitigation in EB-5 Offerings
USCIS updated its online list of terminated EB-5 regional centers on October 22, 2015. In the coming two months, regional centers are required to comply with the requirement to file their Forms I-924A in order to update USCIS on relevant job creating activity over the past year. We expect that USCIS will terminate more regional centers in the next six months where there are credibility issues over data supplied by regional centers in these filings, or where regional centers simply fail to update the agency through filing a Form I-924A. It would be fully within the realm of reasonable expectations to see at least 100 or more terminations initiated within the coming year. As USCIS uses more resources to tighten up administration of the EB-5 regional center program, and with lawmakers looking closely at the program, dormant or non-compliant regional centers may find their designations revoked. Continue Reading Don’t End Up on a USCIS List of Terminated EB-5 Regional Centers: Be Creative and on Time with your I-924A Filing
With the proliferation of market makers and brokers abroad in the EB-5 space, U.S. issuers need to pay close attention to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).
The FCPA penalizes specific U.S. persons and businesses that make payments to foreign government officials to assist in obtaining or retaining business. The FCPA also contains anti-bribery provisions that carry stiff penalties. The U.S. government takes FCPA violations seriously, and we know all too well from enforcement patterns that minor violations are prosecuted. Regional centers and EB-5 project sponsors should get policies into place now to ensure compliance with the FCPA. Continue Reading Know Your EB-5 Intermediary Abroad: Avoid FCPA Traps in Marketing Your EB-5 Deal Outside the United States [VIDEO]
There is speculation on the Hill that lawmakers will not take on reforming or improving the EB-5 Program until January 2016. But don’t think for a second that lawmakers will simply pass an extension of the Program and indefinitely shelve refashioning EB-5. Last month, the General Accounting Office (GAO) published a report on the Program (Immigrant Investor Program: Additional Actions Needed to Better Assess Fraud Risks and Report Economic Benefits). Congress is reading this report, which is a 58 page “gotcha” on EB-5. With recent SEC actions targeting EB-5 fraud, the EB-5 industry is at a point of inflection. Continue Reading GAO Report on EB-5 a Possible Blueprint for Lawmakers and New Legislation
The Wall Street Journal recently published two articles about the EB-5 Regional Center Program: a blog entry and a front page editorial-like review of the program. Both articles highlight gerrymandering of targeted employment areas, purported use of the EB-5 Program as cheap financing, lobbying and special interests, and abuses of the Program. This picture is both incomplete and cluttered. The EB-5 Regional Center Program brings millions of dollars of foreign investment into the US. The Program’s positive attributes counterbalance its challenges.
Let’s set the EB-5 record straight
The EB-5 Regional Center Program is good for the US economy.
Here are five points that were overlooked and that give a more robust view of the EB-5 Program: Continue Reading EB-5 Financing Matters: 5 Things The Wall Street Journal Did Not Mention about Real Estate Finance and the EB-5 Program
On August 25, 2015, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed a civil fraud suit against Lobsang Dargey, a Bellevue, Washington-based real estate developer and alleged fraudster, who also happens to be a brother-in-law of tennis star Andre Agassi. Dargey had ventured into the EB-5 Program as a developer and regional center owner, securing designation by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for two regional centers, Path America SnoCo and Path America KingCo. The complaint is relevant to both investors and regional centers in the EB-5 industry, as well as to lawyers advising issuers in EB-5 offerings. Continue Reading Failure to Investigate Could Mean “Game-Set-and-Match” for EB-5 Investors: SEC Case against Brother-in-Law of Tennis Star Andre Agassi Shows Risk for Would-be Immigrant Investors