Garrett seeks inquiry into McAuliffe venture

April 12, 2013

State Sen. Thomas A. Garrett Jr. called for a federal investigation Thursday into the use of a visa program by the electric car company founded by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe.

Garrett (R-Louisa) sent a letter to Alejandro Mayorkas, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, seeking an inquiry into GreenTech Automotive Inc.’s use of the EB-5 visa program. The program provides visas to foreign investors who create jobs in the United States.

GreenTech, where McAuliffe was chairman until quietly stepping down late last year, has relied on the program for some of its financing.

Garrett based his request on a report in The Washington Post that found career economic development officials in Virginia had raised questions about the visa program generally, and GreenTech’s proposed use of it, in 2009. At the time, McAuliffe was considering building his car plant in Virginia. The plant was ultimately located in Mississippi.

A Virginia economic development official reviewing the plan in 2009 expressed concern that it was a “visa-for-sale scheme.” A second official seconded her comments.

“Given that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is responsible for the EB-5 program, I am formally requesting that the appropriate officials within your agency will review this matter and provide an official response as soon as possible,” Garrett wrote.

McAuliffe campaign spokesman Josh Schwerin said via e-mail that the EB-5 program was “supported by every US Senator, all but three members of the US House, the McDonnell administration and Fortune 500 companies like Hilton and Marriott.”

“We already knew Ken Cuccinelli was bad for business, but to attack a universally supported program that has created billions of dollars in investment and created tens of thousands of jobs is a stunning rejection of mainstream policies to create jobs,” Schwerin said.

Ken Cuccinelli II, Virginia’s attorney general, is McAuliffe’s Republican opponent in the race to succeed the current governor, Republican Robert F. McDonnell, who is term-limited.

On Wednesday, McAuliffe’s campaign declined to comment about the concerns raised about GreenTech in 2009, instead e-mailing documents suggesting that the visa program has worked successfully to create U.S. jobs.

Garrett’s letter calling for a federal probe, which was released to numerous news outlets, made for a day of dueling federal investigation demands in the Virginia governor’s race.

Earlier in the day, Sen. Mark Herring, a Loudoun Democrat running for attorney general, called for a federal inquiry into financial dealings between Virginia supplement maker Star Scientific Inc. and McDonnell and Cuccinelli, the state’s two top Republicans.

Cuccinelli and McDonnell have received personal gifts from Star chief executive Jonnie R. Williams Sr., whose company is suing the state over a property tax assessment and is the subject of a federal securities investigation.

Laura Vozzella covers Virginia politics for The Washington Post.
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