Thousands of hard-working immigrants are getting deported every month. But unregulated private companies are offering a deal: for $500,000, you can get a green card.
Armed with an international network of business relationships and a quirky charisma, Henderson has won over people like Mao Huajun, low profile but extremely wealthy potential investors with sights on America.
Although more than 20 regional centers are certified to do work in Southern California, only a handful are operating in the Bay Area although applications for more regional centers are in the pipeline.
Featured prominently on the website of the Synergy Regional Center are two prominent local figures: former Mayor Willie Brown and former Redevelopment Commission member Benny Yee.
The website has pictures of the Synergy management "meeting former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, to discuss about how EB-5 investment can stimulate the local economy."
Yee is listed as one of six principals at the firm. He didn't return our phone calls seeking comment. Neither did Brown (who, to be fair, may have simply been part of a photo op since it appears the picture was taken at a fund-raising event for his institute).
According to Synergy CEO Simon Jung, Yee joined after initially "giving [Jung] advice on how to do business. He can help us bring deals in San Francisco we don't have access to otherwise."
James Falaschi heads the Bay Area Regional Center in Oakland. His website that features three potential projects all real estate developments in downtown and east Oakland.
Sunfield Development is the company building at the Fox Uptown and at Seminary and Ninth streets, two of the projects the Bay Area Regional center is working on. Sunfield CEO Sid Afshar said EB-5 is "a very good idea because it is a win-win for everyone."
The new player on the scene is Henderson, and he is unveiling an EB-5 vision with a lot of promise.
Mao was bombarded with options when he first heard of EB-5. As a savvy businessman, he was wary of jumping into something sketchy. Through an interpreter, he told us he went with Henderson because he "can see the way Tom is doing this business is transparent, so [he] know[s] the step by step."
Henderson has yet to reveal what his projects will be, but he says they are all businesses, not real estate projects. He said all the companies he is setting up will inhabit industries the city has identified as central to Oakland's economic growth.
"I was born in Oakland. I work in Oakland. I live in Oakland," he said. "I won't do projects that don't create direct jobs."
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