Dozens of foreign investors whose money was misused in a massive EB-5 fraud scheme in Vermont can reinvest their capital in Macklowe Properties’ 1 Wall Street condominium project, a federal judge ruled.
According to a Jan. 30 motion filed by a court-appointed receiver in the Jay Peak fraud case, some 83 investors in a Vermont biotech firm — representing nearly $42 million in EB-5 capital — found themselves in a bind since they’d obtained green cards but their money was not being used. That’s in violation of the EB-5 visa program, which grants residency to foreigners who deploy $500,000 to $1 million in a U.S. business.
Last week, Judge Darrin Gayles of U.S. District Court in Florida — which is hearing the Jay Peak case — said the investors can redeploy their money into 1 Wall Street, a project the receiver identified since it’s already met the visa program’s threshold for job creation, court documents show.
But in a somewhat cautionary manner, the judge added: “The Receiver has made no warranties or representations as to the soundness of the One Wall Street Project or whether the… Investors will ultimately lose all or part of their principal or receive a return on their investment.”
The Jay Peak fraud is considered to be the biggest in EB-5 history. Over an eight-year period starting in 2006, prosecutors said Miami businessman Ariel Quiros and William Stenger, an alleged frontman based in Vermont, raised $450 million from 800 investors to fund a slew of projects — including a ski resort, hotels and a biotech research firm near the Canadian border. Instead, they looted investor funds with a Ponzi-like scheme and diverted $200 million into “complex web of accounts, which facilitated the misuse of funds,” according to the Securities and Exchange Commission. The SEC alleges that Quiros used investor money to pay his personal taxes and also purchase two luxury condos in Manhattan, one unit at Trump Place and another at 400 Fifth Avenue.
Earlier this month, Quiros agreed to pay back $81 million in a settlement with the government, paving the way for a sale of the Vermont resorts. Proceeds would be used to pay back investors.
According to court documents, 1 Wall Street’s owners have raised $186 million in EB-5 funds from 373 investors to date. It is authorized to accept capital from 175 more investors, for a total raise of $274 million. The project’s owners have contributed $394 million in equity, including $120 million in hard construction costs. Macklowe is in late-stage talks with JPMorgan Chase to provide an $850 million construction loan.
Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jaber al-Thani, one of the world’s richest men and the former prime minister of Qatar, is Macklowe’s primary equity partner on the 50-story building, as The Real Deal revealed in March. The partners bought it from the Bank of New York Mellon for $585 million in 2014.
Redeploying EB-5 funds is an increasingly common phenomenon, thanks to a 10-year backlog in EB-5 visa applications. Because some developers want to return investor capital before the investors are able to obtain a green card, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said last year that investors may re-invest their money to keep it “at risk.” Greystone, along with investment adviser Capital United and finance tech firm NES Financial, have since launched a specialized EB-5 redeployment fund.
Jay Peak’s jilted foreign investors aren’t the only ones transferring their investment to 1 Wall Street. Silverstein Properties — which raised around $70 million from EB-5 investors for 2 World Trade Center — transferred their contracts to Macklowe’s $1.5 billion office-to-condo conversion.
The 566-unit project will have a triplex penthouse measuring 12,965 square feet, floorplans for the project show. Unlike 432 Park Avenue, 1 Wall Street will have relatively moderate studios, one- and two-bedroom apartments.