Monday, January 25, 2010

Sportsplex May Not Be Approved Investment For Chicago Promoters

As FEN reported last week, the first snag in a plan to allocate $18 million in McHenry County stimulus bonds to a proposed $40 million Sportsplex on Route 47 is that the Secretary of State has no record of the company's managing partner.  At close of business Friday there was still no listing for McHenry County Sportsplex Management Group LLC.  The second snag comes on the side of that group's majority partner, McHenry Sportsplex EB-5 Fund LLC. The short version is investments in a Sportsplex may not be on the official approved list.

The "EB-5 Fund" in the company's name is key to the proposal before the County Board.  EB-5 is a little-known program of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services that grants U.S. resident visas to foreigners who invest $1 million to create 10 or more U.S. jobs. It hasn't been a very popular program although interest grew when the buyin was cut in half a while ago for distressed "targeted economic areas".  According to USCIS figures about 1,200 EB-5 visas were issued last year but 10,000 were authorized.

The plan in the case of the stimulus bonds, would be for McHenry County Sportsplex to use the money to create 420 local jobs while McHenry Sportsplex EB-5 Fund sells chunks of it to foreign investors to pay the bonds off.  There could be a practical deadline to that idea, though. The program almost expired twice last year and finally received only a three-year reauthorization last October.

In any case, from a U.S. standpoint the EB-5 program is supposed to be about investment and job creation but that may not be how foreign prospects look at it. "This is a front-loaded insurance policy," said Birmingham, AL, EB-5 lawyer Boyd Campbell. He's steered his investors into a local factory to build natural gas/electric hybrid cars.  In unstable countries, he said, "When the balloon goes up Mom and the kids are on the plane and the boys are already enrolled in full-immersion English language school. Dad'll be along later."
Campbell's Chicago counterpart is an Iranian-American Lawyer named Taher Kameli at Chicagoland Foreign Investment Group LLC.  CFIG is Immigration's designated Regional Center in northern Illinois for the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Pilot Program. That means, essentially, that CFIG has favored status to speed up EB-5 applications.  According to state records, CFIG is theoretically managed by an Iranian-surnamed Naperville dentist but Kameli is the man whose picture and name is all over the website and the company's address is the same as his Chicago law office.

CFIG's website displays part of an Immigration Services letter authorizing the company to offer EB-5 investments in five business areas: Accomodation, Agriculture, Education, Health Care and Manufacturing. None of those seems to cover a Sportsplex but CFIG's website adds a sixth category: Art, Entertainment and Recreation.  USCIS Regional Media Manager Marilu Cabrera said she wasn't able to determine if CFIG was pre-approved for investments in something like a Sportsplex.  She said, however, that if it wasn't, such an investment would have to go though a separate evaluation from scratch.

Kameli did not respond to FEN voicemail and email requests for an interview.

Besides being spokesman and registered agent for CFIG, Kameli is also the agent for McHenry County Sportsplex EB-5 Fund whose address is his office. That's the majority owner for the McHenry County Sportsplex. State records indicate the Sportsplex EB-5 Fund is managed by another company, McHenry Real Estate and Property Investments LLC. Kameli's the agent and apparent landlord there, too.  McHenry Real Estate and Property Investments is listed as member-managed but the only member listed in the records is someone named Vahid Mirzamani.

The only Vahid Mirzamani in the U.S. listed in public databases is a person self-described on a social networking website as a 25 year-old Iranian student in Chicago.  No phone or email could be found for the man and he could not be located at his reported address.

While pages on CFIG's website include EB-5 information and videos in Spanish and Mandarin Chinese, the most prominent is the one in Farsi, the language of Iran. Alabama lawyer Campbell said he's had experience promoting EB-5 investments to Iranians.

"(USCIS) called up (early last year) and said, 'Don't do Iranians'," he said. "I had eight million dollars worth of Iranian investments tied up for eight months," said Campbell. "Nothing happened and then they were all approved on the same day."

"(USCIS) just went rogue," Campbell said. "I still don't know what it was all about."

EDITORS NOTE: July 28-- FEN has been able to confirm that CFIG is, indeed, certified to offer investments in  "Art, Entertainment and Recreation" and was certified to do so at the time this story was written and, in fact, had been for several months prior to that.

In the pic: (above) The man who may manage the Sportsplex's majority owner could not be located at an address in Chicago's multi-ethnic Albany Park neighborhood. (below) Immigration lawyer Taher Kameli on CFIG's website claims support from Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin.


baker63 said...

Thank you so much, Pete.
Good to know that at least one newspaper does some accurate investigating. How else can we get good informative information? You give us something we need so badly.

Anonymous said...

Good Job Peter, and look what politician is in the picture! Does it suprise your readers.

First Electric Newspaper LLC said...

Thanks. This stuff was pretty much just records checks and legwork, though.--ed.