A Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General says the deputy secretary of the DHS pushed through visas for foreigners investing in Las Vegas’ SLS Hotel and Casino project (formerly known as the Sahara Casino) at the request of Senator Harry Reid, whose son Rory Reid was, at the time, a partner in Nevada’s largest law firm, Lawson, Sawyer, and Collins.
The younger Reid represented Stockbridge/SBE Holdings as it readied to convert the old Sahara it purchased in 2007 into the new SLS Hotel and Casino. The timing of Rory’s legal representation in 2012 and into 2013 coincides with the dates of his father’s efforts to have DHS to speed up the EB-5 visas critical to SLS.
Over a dozen people stepped forward to say Harry Reid pressured then-U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director Alejandro Mayorkas in January 2013 into pushing through visas to for Stockbridge/SBE Holdings Chinese investors even though the department advised against it.
Reid claimed it’s his job to press the federal government to speed up decisions on his constituents’ needs. However, an executive for one of the main companies involved in the hotel project donated more than $127,000 to Democratic political causes over the last three election cycles.
Reid also brushed aside reports saying he exerted political influence to win visas for investors who would have otherwise been turned down.
“The Homeland Security report came from a bunch of whiners at the Department of Homeland Security,” Reid told Nevada’s KNPR radio.
Created by Congress in 1990, the EB-5 program’s designed to attract investors willing to risk capital in ventures to create jobs in the U.S. Would-be investors who have at least $500,000 bankrolled in a new U.S. business can apply.
The USCIS is the agency within the DHS responsible for reviewing all EB-5 visa applications. The USCIS approves private companies, like American Dream Fund, hired by Stockbridge/SBE Holdings in 2007, to serve as Regional Centers, authorized to present EB-5 visa petition requests.
American Dream Fund, which focuses on Chinese EB-5 investors, is an investment associate of The Harris Group, a unit of the Marcus & Millichap Real Estate company. Marcus & Millichap CEO George Marcus has contributed to Reid’s campaigns and is a major contributor to Reid’s Senate Majority PAC.
Marcus contributed $5,000 to the Senate Majority PAC, according to FEC records on August 12, 2012. A month later, on September 11, 2012, Marcus contributed an additional $200,000.
Then in late 2013 and early January 2014, Marcus contributed an additional $1,250,000 to the Senate Majority PAC and by February 2014, with all the EB-5 visas approved, the $115 million of low-cost junior debt raised, construction on the SLS Hotel and Casino began. The hotel and casino opened its doors seven months later in August 2014.
On a related note, in August 2012, Reid arranged a meeting between then-Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez. During that meeting, Menendez pleaded for leniency on behalf Dr. Salomon Melgen, whose accused of overbilling Medicare by nearly $9 million.
Interestingly, Reid arranged the meeting right after Melgen donated $300,000 to Reid’s Senate Majority PAC. By the end of 2012, Melgen’s donations to the Senate Majority PAC totaled $700,000.
Menendez has since been indicted on charges of accepting nearly a million dollars in gifts and campaign contributions from Melgen in exchange for political favors. The public interest group Cause of Action is now calling on the Department of Justice to launch a criminal investigation into Reid’s intervention in the DHS EB-5 visa program.
Oddly enough, last year Menendez interceded for an Ecuadorian woman banned from traveling to the U.S. because of visa fraud.
Estafania Isaias’ relatives gave $11,000 to Menendez’s campaign, more than $125,000 to the Obama Victory Fund and another $105,000 to the Democratic National Committee. Shortly afterwards, Menendez contacted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who recommended the DHS approve the visa waiver — which it did.