By Will Swaim | Watchdog.org
ALEXANDRIA, Va. — A top federal immigration official testified Thursday that he met with Terry McAuliffe to discuss the visa applications of foreign investors in the Virginia gubernatorial candidate’s car company, GreenTech Automotive.
Denying accusations the meeting was inappropriate, Alejandro Mayorkas, director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, told the Senate Homeland Security Committee, “I was asked to attend a meeting with (McAuliffe) so I could hear his complaints. I heard those complaints, and that was the extent of the interaction.”
He recalled that the meeting occurred “about two years ago.”
That surprise revelation came just hours after a GreenTech Automotive official denied the company has ever lobbied immigration officials to speed visas for its investors.
The company “does not (itself) interact with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service officials,” an unnamed GreenTech spokesperson told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The spokesperson said GreenTech handled visa issues through Gulf Coast Funds Management, an affiliated investment firm headed by Anthony Rodham, brother of Hillary Clinton.
McAuliffe, who is in a tight race for the Virginia governor’s office, was GreenTech’s chairman until his abrupt April resignation following media reports about his company’s use of the controversial federal EB-5 cash-for-visas program. He remains a part owner in the company.
Asked by Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Tom Carper, D-Del., if he imposed any changes in the handling of Gulf Coast’s investor applications as a result of the meeting, Mayorkas responded, “Absolutely not.”
“I returned to my office and said I was tired of hearing complaints,” he related.
Mayorkas met with senators weighing his appointment to the No. 2 spot at Homeland Security. Acting on a tip from the FBI, the DHS Inspector General said it is looking at evidence that Mayorkas may have acted inappropriately to approve the denied visa application of a Chinese national seeking to invest in McAuliffe’s company.
According to the Tribune-Review, “GreenTech said it was not aware of the IG probe” until the Associated Press revealed it earlier this week.
Watchdog.org has reported that Rodham’s company pressed Mayorkas to fast-track visa applications for 81 GreenTech investors.
Documents obtained from the USCIS through a Freedom of Information Act request show McAuliffe went over Mayorkas’s head, appealing directly to Janet Napolitano, secretary of the powerful Department of Homeland Security.
In some cases, the company’s appeals were frantic.
“The investors are upset and threatening to withdraw their investments,” GreenTech attorney Dawn Lurie wrote to Mayorkas on June 28, 2011. “Reputation is critical in this industry and our branding is being hurt.”
A week later Lurie followed with another email warning of unhappy investors threatening a lawsuit.
The email apparently had little effect: a year and a half later a second attorney had the same message for Mayorkas. This time her words were more direct.
“This delay is having a detrimental impact on the ongoing operations of GreenTech Automotive and GTA’s ability to create and maintain American jobs,” Simone Williams wrote on Jan. 23, 2013.
GreenTech’s denial in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review may rest on its suggestion that Rodham’s investment firm is somehow independent. It’s not: federal documents show GreenTech Automotive is Gulf Coast’s only client. Outside observers, including Virginia officials reviewing the company’s business plan in 2009, have concluded there is no important separation between the two.
“We believe that having the principals of the regional center be the same as the principals of the company benefiting from the investment creates a conflict of interest,” a commonwealth official wrote in his review. “Furthermore, having the principals benefit monetarily from the fees to be charged to the investors creates a conflict of interest.”
A photo obtained by Watchdog shows GreenTech CEO and president Charles Wang sleeping next to Rodham on a Chinese train. Sources said the two were traveling the country to solicit Chinese investors.
GreenTech sued Watchdog in April for $85 million, claiming its April 1 and April 3 articles defamed the company and damaged its relations with investors.
Reporting from Capitol Hill by Kenric Ward. Additional reporting by Tori Richards.
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