A prominent Queens businessman and political donor is facing accusations that he and his wife lured hundreds of unwitting Chinese nationals into pouring a quarter-billion dollars into two development projects with the promise that their investments would help secure residency in the United States.
According to a complaint filed in Brooklyn Federal Court by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Yi “Richard” Xia and his wife Julia Yue persuaded more than 450 investors to shell out $229 million to fund the construction of two five-star hotels, one in Flushing and the other in Corona.
The Flushing development, which was dubbed the Eastern Mirage Project and supposed to be finished in 2013, remains incomplete, and according to the SEC complaint, is “an unfinished and empty glass tower.” The other development, the Eastern Emerald Project, is “a largely vacant dirt hole surrounded by a concrete wall.”
Xia’s solicitations for investments spanned from 2010 to 2017, the SEC contends.
According to its complaint, Xia, 52, and Yue, 41, pitched the hotel projects as a way for investors from China to obtain American residency through the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ EB-5 program, which allows foreign nationals to qualify if they invest $500,000 or more in a project that creates or preserves jobs.
But, the SEC claims, the investors who made loans to project developers were being deceived.
Instead of their cash going where it was promised, money investors sent to the Mirage project was redirected to the Emerald development, and money intended for the Emerald project was sent to the Mirage job, the complaint claims.
“Defendants represented to investors that their $500,000 capital contributions would be used only for the construction and operation of that specific project. Instead, defendants repeatedly misappropriated money from one project and used it for another,” the complaint states. “Xia also misappropriated investor funds for personal and other improper expenses.”
To that end, the complaint claims that “at least $9.7 million in ill-gotten gains” were funneled into Yue’s personal bank accounts “for no legitimate business purpose.”
Xia also promised investors the projects would be financed through government bonds and bank loans, according to the complaint, which contends those assertions were false.
Xia and his wife did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
Campaign finance records indicate that over the years Xia has donated generously to political causes, including contributions to Assemblyman Ron Kim, Councilman Peter Koo, state Sen. John Liu and a Democratic political action committee that wheeled thousands of dollars to former Rep. Joe Crowley.
Xia appears to have donated $5,250 to Kim between 2014 and 2018, $1,000 to state Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky in 2014, $800 to Liu in 2011, $100 to City Councilman Peter Koo in 2008 and $500 to Queens DA Melinda Katz in 2018, state records show.
Most notably, though, he gave $25,000 to the Better Days Fund, which in turn gave more than $34,000 to Crowley, federal campaign finance records reveal. Crowley lost his seat in Congress to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in 2018.
It also appears that Fleet Financial Group, a company helmed by Xia, has employed Crowley’s brother as a lobbyist. According to a 2019 disclosure filed with the city, Fleet tasked John “Sean” Crowley of Davidoff Hutcher & Citron to lobby Queens Councilman Francisco Moya on an unspecified matter.
In its complaint against Xia and Yue, the SEC alleges the two violated federal securities laws and requested that the court order them to “disgorge” the investment cash they received and fork over unspecified civil penalties.
The SEC filed its complaint on Sept. 27. And a day later, it announced it had obtained an “asset freeze” against Xia and Fleet.