By Kenric Ward | Watchdog.org
ALEXANDRIA – Terry McAuliffe’s effort to press top federal officials on behalf of his troubled electric car company was wider and deeper than previously revealed, emails obtained by Watchdog.org show.
The emails – among McAuliffe and top-level Department of Homeland Security officials – include dire warnings that GreenTech Automotive‘s Mississippi plant would shut down within hours if officials failed to approve foreign investors’ visa applications.
The emails came in a string beginning with McAuliffe, then chairman of GreenTech, and DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano’s chief of staff, Noah Kroloff, on Nov. 16, 2012. The subject line: “Further to our conversation today re USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) and GreenTech Automotive.”
The emails were obtained from USCIS through the Freedom of Information Act. The agency refused to provide notes of telephone conversations referenced in the emails.
In one email, McAuliffe thanked Kroloff “for taking the time to discuss our concerns regarding the timeliness of USCIS’ review of our investors’ EB-5 petitions.”
“GreenTech relies on funding from EB-5 investors to grow our electric-car business and create jobs in Mississippi. I would appreciate any assistance you may be able to provide with regard to this matter,” McAuliffe wrote.
McAuliffe registered his concerns five months before his company sued Watchdog. In its April lawsuit, GTA asserted that the EB-5 visa-investor program was not a major funding source, and blamed Watchdog’s news coverage — not delays at USCIS — for damaging relations with investors.
The lawsuit also contended that GreenTech was on track to build neighborhood electric vehicles in Mississippi.
Yet the emails between Kroloff and Assistant DHS Secretary Douglas Smith on Feb. 1 alluded to funding problems at GTA. Smith related that the company threatened a shutdown if EB-5 applications were not approved immediately.
“Any way you can kick Ali (USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas) into gear? If this doesn’t get resolved by COB (close of business) today, the (Mississippi) plant will have to shut down and lay off 100 people on Monday,” Smith wrote to Kroloff.
After he was “looped in,” Mayorkas responded via email the same day, stating, “I cannot weigh in. It would be inappropriate for me to do so.”
Smith responded with a slightly different request: “Ali, it is not about weighing in to tell (USCIS adjudicators) which way to decide, it’s weighing in to get it done one way or another. People have a right to expect we can make a decision faster then [sic] a year.”
Mayorkas testified before a Senate committee earlier this year that he did not put his “thumb on the scale of justice” to help GreenTech.
He did acknowledge meeting privately with McAuliffe to discuss GreenTech’s concerns. Mayorkas said GreenTech and its funding arm, Gulf Coast Funds Management, were among the most persistent complainers about EB-5 processing.
Watchdog has reported that McAuliffe, a well-connected Democratic Party fundraiser now running for governor of Virginia, used various Obama administration officials to get his pleas heard. Gulf Coast is headed by Anthony Rodham, Hillary Clinton’s younger brother.
The GreenTech/Gulf Coast cash-for-visa financing currently is the target of a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission investigation.
USCIS spokesman Chris Bentley declined to comment on the emails.
DHS spokesman Peter Boogaard’s email account generated this automatic reply: “Due to the current federal funding hiatus, I will not be able to return emails or telephone calls until I return to duty upon conclusion of the funding hiatus.”
Kenric Ward is chief of Watchdog’s Virginia Bureau. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (571) 319-9824. @Kenricward
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