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Developer To Pay $272M In SEC Settlement For EB-5 Fraud

The SEC's headquarters at the Station Place complex next to Union Station in D.C.

A New York-based real estate developer has agreed to pay back its foreign investors for two Queens real estate projects after allegedly committing fraud.

Richard Xia and his company, Fleet Financial, have come to an agreement with the Securities and Exchange Commission to pay $272M for allegedly defrauding Chinese investors seeking green cards, The Real Deal reported

Fleet Financial couldn't be reached for comment.

The SEC claimed Xia misled EB-5 investors between 2010 and 2017 to procure more than $228M in financing from 400 individuals for the two projects.

The projects were Eastern Mirage, planned as an 18-story mixed-use medical center and hotel in Flushing, and Eastern Emerald, a 25-story hotel and condo development near LaGuardia Airport with a Japanese restaurant led by a Michelin-starred chef and a performing arts center.

The civil action was filed in a Brooklyn federal court in 2021, with the SEC alleging that offering materials for the two projects “made material misrepresentations regarding the sources of financing for the projects [and] the experience of the projects' development and construction team.”

It alleged misrepresentations were also made about the scope of Eastern Emerald and the existence of lease agreements, and that Xia misappropriated approximately $17M in Eastern Mirage investor funds and at least $11.8M in Eastern Emerald investor funds.

The regulator alleged $30M of the funds raised were wrongfully diverted to purchase three Long Island homes — including one that was used as a dumping ground for contaminated soil from another development, TRD reported. 

At the time it filed the complaint in 2021, the SEC also obtained a freeze on Xia’s assets.

In addition to paying back $228M to his investors, Xia will be forced to pay $25M in prejudgment interest and a $3.1M civil penalty. Fleet Financial will have to pay another $15.5M civil penalty.

The EB-5 program is a green card-granting mechanism for foreign investors who put at least $800K toward job-creating projects in the U.S. But the program has been plagued by fraud and has seen waning interest in recent years, driven by a drop-off in Chinese investors, the Government Accountability Office found.