A group of 32 Chinese citizens has sued Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D.) and former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's brother, Anthony Rodham, over a venture aimed at manufacturing electric cars in the United States.
The Chinese investors filed a $17 million fraud lawsuit in Fairfax County, Virginia court last week, alleging that they were swindled out of about $560,000 apiece as a result of misrepresentations made by McAuliffe and Rodham, two of the most politically connected proponents of the business venture, Politico reported Tuesday.
The suit is yet another headache for McAuliffe as he mulls a potential presidential bid in 2020, buoyed in part by Democrats' strong showing in the state in the election earlier this month. McAuliffe confirmed last year that his business dealings with foreign nationals were under investigation by the FBI and federal prosecutors. It's unclear whether that probe involved Greentech or whether the inquiry is still ongoing.
The Chinese investors plowed their money into Greentech with the promise of winning permanent residency in the U.S. under a program that awards green cards to foreign-funded ventures that generate U.S. jobs. However, the suit contends that the investors now face the threat of deportation from the U.S. because the Department of Homeland Security has determined that Greentech did not generate the number of jobs required to sustain the number of visas issued through the so-called EB-5 program.
"Plaintiffs now face the prospect of having to uproot their families once again, with the expense and stress of deportation to China looming before them," the suit says, accusing McAuliffe, Rodham, Greentech founder Charles Xiaolin Wang, and others of running a "scam."
The suit says that McAuliffe and Rodham did several tours through China to talk to Chinese citizens about investing in their electric car startup. As the brother-in-law of former President Bill Clinton and brother of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Rodham appeared to serve as a means of attracting Chinese interest in the venture.
"Defendants milked these connections in marketing materials," the suit says. "Defendants exploited those relationships to assure investors of both the success of the company and their ability to obtain U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services ("USCIS") approval of the visa applications."
McAuliffe's spokeswoman, Crystal Carson, pushed back against the claims in the suit and noted that McAuliffe gave up his role in Greentech five years ago.
"We strongly reject this baseless suit which has no merit whatsoever. The claims, which regurgitate old political attacks regarding a company that Governor McAuliffe left five years ago, were brought by a lawyer with conservative ties," Carson said. "We are confident it will be dismissed."
Scott Abeles, one of the attorneys who drafted the suit, disputed having any political motivation against McAuliffe or Rodham.
"I represented the Chamber of Commerce once or twice ... I'm not a conservative dude," Abeles, of the Los Angeles-based Gerard Fox law, said in an interview on Tuesday.
While McAuliffe was mulling a gubernatorial run in 2012, Greentech was a bright spot on his resume, combining environmentalism with entrepreneurial spirt. His venture also launched an effort to bring jobs to an impoverished part of Mississippi by building a factory there, drawing Bill Clinton and former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour to the ribbon-cutting ceremony, according to Politico.
Once McAuliffe took office, bad publicity for the firm kept coming. It emerged that the Securities and Exchange Commission had an investigation into the company, although no charges were ever brought.
A Department of Homeland Security inspector general report issued in 2015 said USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas created "an appearance of favoritism and special access" by responding to entreaties from McAuliffe and Rodham to speed up action on applications related to the project. The report did not accuse McAuliffe or Rodham of wrongdoing.
The Mississippi factory apparently closed in January. In July, the state's auditor said Greentech's employment in the state peaked at 143 and the firm now owes the state $6.4 million for failing to live up to promises it made to get a $5 million financing package from the government there.