Saturday, July 20, 2019

When does a New York college become an international EB-5 visa scam?

In 2011, Sherry Li hatched the idea to create a $6 billion Chinese Disneyland in the Catskills, with a for-profit college, a casino, shopping venues, eateries, Chinese-themed rides, and a community full of wealthy Communist Chinese immigrants...just a few miles away from nearby villages of American peasants. The ideas were Trump-like, and like several of Donald Trump's business efforts, most likely to fail without political ties at all levels, and lots of money. In this case, Li needed hundreds of millions just to start, most from wealthy Chinese investors. Together with her business associate Mike Wang, Li paid out large sums of money to establish political ties, but politicians claim not to know her. In 2019, this fantastic scheme, whittled down to a school with no buildings, no students, and one person sitting at a desk, looks more like a swindle. But without victims coming forward, and most are unlikely to come forward, this relatively unknown businesswoman will continue what can now be called a scam.

(Note: I have tried communicating with Sherry Li and Mike Wang, her media director, several times via phone, email, and social media. Someone at the Thompson Education Center does answer the phone, and says "they are out of the country." But this person cannot tell me when they left or when they are returning to the US. When I mentioned that their social media was not updated or even monitored, she admitted "we're not operating anything.")

Related link: Visa Mill Promoters Drop $760K on Key Republicans and NY Governor Andrew Cuomo (2018)

China City of America is a multi-phased construction project planned for the town of Thompson, Sullivan County, in the Catskill Mountains region of the U.S. state of New York. The current project, Thompson Education Center (TEC), is a proposed college for foreign students, situated in a 573-acre parcel which borders a state-protected wetland.

In December 2011, China City LLC applied to be a USCIS recognized EB-5 visa Regional Center, but the business was never approved by US Homeland Security. The EB-5 immigrant investor program grants permanent residency to foreign investors in exchange for job-creating investments in the United States. The 880 Regional Centers sponsor capital investment projects for foreign entrepreneurs seeking green card status. Approximately 85 percent of EB-5 participants are Chinese, but there is a quota system, and waits for Chinese applicants can be as long as 15 years.

More than a year later, China City America publicly presented its idea to build a 2,200-acre Chinese theme park, hotel, and casino for an estimated $6 billion. According to The Economist, the plan "would attract 1.5 million visitors annually" and "transform the struggling economy" in upstate New York while seducing thousands of wealthy Chinese investors through the federal EB-5 visa program. The initial capital investment of $325 million would include $127.5 million from EB-5 investors, $132.5 million from equity investors, and $65 million from the U.S. government.

According to the scheme, each Chinese client would pay a small investment up front: a $65,000 non-refundable deposit. One catch was that in return, Li's business would have to quickly create at least 10 new jobs per investor. Local, national, and international media articles conveyed a variety of interests and concerns about the project while local officials and residents expressed both hope and skepticism.

[The initial presentation by Sherry Li starts at about 7:15 in this Youtube video. The comments are in some cases brutally honest, in other cases racist.]

Sherry Xue Li, an Oyster Bay, Long Island businesswoman, has been the chief executive officer and founder of China City of America. Li reported to the Associated Press that she came to the US in 1991, at the age of 19, and has a background in development and finance. Everything about her wealth seems to be a mystery that can only be gleaned from detective work by media outlets and groups like Defeat China City of America on Facebook.
According to her LinkedIn page, Sherry Li has a master's degree from NYU and was a Vice President of Hengli International Corporation (1995-1998), Executive Assistant at Money Securities (1997-1999), and President of China Financial Services (2003-2011).
SEC records show that Sherry Xue Li had been a major shareholder in BRS Group, Inc., a Delaware company dealing in scrap copper imports to China and China Electronic Holdings. Sherry Xue Li sold her stake in China Electronic in 2010 and BRS in 2011. In the video you will see in a moment, Sherry Li also mentions that she has a young child.

According to Lachlan Markay at The Daily Beast, "Li rarely, if ever, talks to the press, issuing her statements mainly through press releases in which she boasts of her meetings with Republican officeholders and Trump administration officials." The other officer of the Thompson Education Center is Mike Lianbo Wang who has appeared in a few TEC press releases.

At a 2013 town council meeting where Sherry Li first pitched the plan, she stated that "Each dynasty will have its building and will have rides go with it," China City’s website features golden dragons, and projects an initial investment of $325 million — with $10 million going to a "Temple of Heaven," $24 million on a hotel and entertainment complex, and $20 million to construct a 'Forbidden City.'" In its second meeting with the town council, Thomas J. Shepstone represented China City. Shepstone was known in the region as a defender of fracking. According to Paula Medley of the Basha Kill Area Association the project couldn't be developed on the scale proposed by China City without damaging environmentally sensitive wetlands.

In 2014, Town of Thompson supervisor Bill Rieber became frustrated with Li's constantly shifting plans and the Town of Thompson declined to approve the project, but the project was granted approval for three wells in 2016. In the same year, Sullivan county lawyer Jacob Billig sued China City of America for failing to pay him fees for service. A settlement was reached out of court for $25,000.

Thompson Education Center

While the larger China City project has stalled, the Thompson Education Center (TEC) is still being planned. The proposed for-profit college campus is on a 573 acre parcel of land near Route 17, Exit 112, which borders Wild Turnpike in Thompson, New York and extends to the town of Mamakating. The mostly undeveloped land for the project is in proximity to an environmentally protected wetland, the Harlen Swamp Wetland Complex. It is also near Monticello, New York, a village with a poverty rate of about 36 percent. TEC press releases have promised that the "high-end" project would create at least 20,000 jobs.

Thompson Education Center plans to have a school of business, a film & arts school, and programs in nursing and medical training, culinary arts, high school equivalency and executive and vocational training. The project includes four classroom buildings, student dormitories, student townhouses and a student center. TEC claims to have entered into agreements with US and Chinese high schools, colleges, education institutions and systems to provide students to the institution. TEC claims also that it has been working with several U.S. accredited colleges on undergraduate programs and ESL programs.

In a January 2017 presentation to the Monticello Rotary, Sherry Li claimed that China City had executed letters of understanding with the Catskill Regional Hospital for its nursing program, and with Phoenix, a Chinese media company that has educated 80,000 students.

According to the Wall Street Journal, in June 2017 Lianbo Wang donated $329,500 to a joint fund between President Donald Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee (RNC). About $86,000 was diverted to the RNC’s legal fund. Politico also reported on the large donations by Wang and Li.

In August 2017, Thompson Education Center appeared before the Town of Thompson, with a plan for a campus that would include 732 dorm rooms for 2,508 students, 276 homes for faculty members, and a college president’s house to be built in a “Founding Trustee Village.” Another source stated that the campus would also include a community center, three recreational buildings, three playgrounds, a sports stadium, a performing arts center, a library and museum, a conference center, a business center, a medical center and an inn for visitors.

In September 2017, TEC sponsored a golf tournament benefiting the Catskill Regional Medical Center (CRMC) Foundation. Ms. Li also visited Congressman Steve Stivers, Chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, in Washington, D.C.

In 2018, residents sought for a revocation of a permit that the Fallsburg, New York building department had granted for a 9,000-square-foot building, claiming that the building was not a residential structure. The property is adjacent to the Thompson Education Center and is owned by Sherry Li.

Epoch Times reported that Sherry Li was featured in Chinese media promoting the school "as an 'easy' way to get an American green card." The May 17, 2018 Economist issue noted that Chinese media said that "investors in the scheme will find emigrating to America 'so easy.'" But the current wait time for Chinese nationals to receive an EB-5 visa is a decade and a half, and a new regulation for EB-5 visas may substantially raise the price for obtaining a green card.

In January 2019, at the Ivy Football Association Dinner, Sherry Li's Thompson Education Center said they planned to provide application counseling, exam preparation and tutoring for students by The Butler Method. Then in February, TEC announced plans to offer the Ivy League Prep program, to give students with sports trauma treatment-related classes, noting that the courses could be "transferred to Ivy League universities for college credits." At the time, TEC also reported that the project received three well permits, and that the construction road was completed, which should not have been news--the permits had been issued in 2016. The for-profit college with no buildings and no students also reportedly signed contracts with schools in China "to deliver 2,700 nursing program students every year." On a trip to Thailand in March 2019, Ms. Li met with the president of Thonburi University and discussed educational cooperation between TEC, its partners schools and colleges, and the Bangkok school.

In the same press release, Sherry Li's organiation reported that

"College Town covers an area of 650 acres, with over 5 million square feet of the construction area for educational campus and ancillary facilities. TEC has partnered with many prestigious universities in Unites States, planned to establish courses including, business schools, media arts, medical academies, culinary, various MBAs, special license training, high schools and their affiliated facilities to create an intelligent high-end university community. In 2019, Thompson Education Center will work with International University Alliance under the Ministry of Education to open 50 Thompson Education Center Extension campuses in China."

Meanwhile the Facebook and Twitter accounts for Thompson Education Center lie dormant: a giveaway that something is very wrong with this picture.

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