‘Favoritism’ in SLS investors’ visa requests tied to Reid

A top Department of Homeland Security official improperly intervened to fast-track visas for foreign investors in the $415 million SLS Las Vegas renovation after being pressured by U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, according to an inspector general’s report released Tuesday.

“There was no basis for expediting the (visa) petitions,” the IG report concluded in the Las Vegas case, one of three high-profile projects Inspector General John Roth investigated for undue political influence based on whistleblower complaints.

Reid, D-Nev., made no apologies for helping the Las Vegas hotel-casino, which boosted the economy on the north end of the Strip.

“This is just one in many examples of Senator Reid’s commitment to ensuring Nevada’s tourism industry continues to thrive,” Reid spokeswoman Kristen Orthman said in a statement. “In short, Senator Reid will always put Nevada first and fight for Nevada jobs.”

The renovation of the former Sahara and its 1,620 rooms took 18 months. It reopened in August with 3,400 employees.

The renovation was made possible by a combination of $300 million raised by the investment firm J.P. Morgan and $115 million raised through EB-5 visa financing, which gives foreign nationals a method of obtaining a green card in exchange for an investment in the U.S.

EB-5 visas allow foreign nationals who invest at least $500,000 in a commercial enterprise that creates or saves at least 10 full-time jobs to obtain green cards. The program has been controversial, with officials saying it is not unusual for lawmakers to weigh in on behalf of favored applicants.

In the current cases, the 97-page IG report found that Alejandro Mayorkas, who is now deputy secretary of homeland security, directly intervened to fast-track visas of well-connected foreign investors when he was head of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS. In some cases, including the SLS, lower-level bureaucrats had denied the projects deserved EB-5 visa consideration. Mayorkas overturned those decisions.

“Their allegations were unequivocal: Mr. Mayorkas gave special access and treatment to certain individuals and parties,” the IG report said, referring to the whistleblowers. “They told us he created special processes and revised existing policies in the EB-5 program to accommodate specific parties. According to the employees, but for Mr. Mayorkas’ actions, the career staff would have decided these matters differently.”

“Employees felt uncomfortable and pressured to comply with managers’ instructions that appeared to have come from Mr. Mayorkas or those working directly for him,” the report added.

Politics was at play, the whistleblowers said, and they bowed to the pressure.

“Many employees concluded, not unreasonably, that the pressure exerted on them was because the individuals involved were politically connected,” the report concluded.

The chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, scheduled a Thursday hearing to review the report. Roth and USCIS Ombudsman Maria Odom are scheduled to testify.

McCaul said the report was disturbing.

“The findings from the DHS OIG’s report regarding DHS Deputy Secretary Mayorkas’ apparent acts of favoritism regarding the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program are extremely concerning,” McCaul said in a statement. “The report details three specific cases where applicants, perceived to be politically powerful by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) employees, received special access and attention directly from Mr. Mayorkas during his time as Director of USCIS. According to whistleblowers, without his involvement these cases would have been decided differently.”

Review-Journal Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault contributed to this report. Contact Laura Myers at lmyers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919. Find her on Twitter: @lmyerslvrj.

ad-high_impact_4
Local
Family remembers deceased mother
Family members of Adriann Gallegos remember her. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Camp Broadway teaches kids how to sing and dance
The Smith Center's seventh annual Camp Broadway musical theater program gives 150 kids ages 6-17 an opportunity to learn musical theater skills from industry professionals over a five-day period. Marcus Villagran/ Las Vegas Review-Journal @brokejournalist
Restoring classic Corvettes to perfection
Members of the National Corvette Restorers Society Convention talk about what it takes to earn the NCRS Top Flight Award for a restored Corvette at South Point in Las Vegas on Tuesday July 17, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Watch Ruthless! at Las Vegas Little Theatre
The musical Ruthless! will be playing at Las Vegas Little Theatre from July 13-29. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Cadaver art and sword swallowing at The Dark Arts Market
Curator Erin Emrie talks about her inspiration for The Dark Arts Market at Cornish Pasty Co. in Las Vegas Tuesday, July 10, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
'NO H8' Campaign comes to Las Vegas
Hundreds of locals participate in the NO H8 campaign founded by Adam Bouska and Jeff Parshley as a response to Proposition 8, a California ban on same-sex marriage. The campaign has since evolved to represent equal treatment for all. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
What to expect at Station Casinos' Fourth of July celebration
Station Casinos' is hosting its annual 4th of July celebration with Fireworks by Grucci. Fireworks scheduled to go off on Wednesday, July 4 around 9 p.m. at Green Valley Ranch Resort, Red Rock Resort, Fiesta Rancho and Texas Station. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Star Wars and Golden Knights mashup at downtown art shop
Star Wars and Vegas Golden Knights fans attend the Boba Fett Golden Knight Paint Class at The Bubblegum Gallery in Las Vegas, Friday, June 29, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Tourists and locals enjoy Independence Day fireworks at Caesars Palace
Hundreds of tourists and locals gaze at the Independence Day fireworks show at Caesars Palace on Saturday, June 30, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Clark County recount votes in commission’s District E primary
Clark County staff begin the recount requested by candidate Marco Hernandez in the democratic primary for the County Commission's District E seat on Tuesday, June 26, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Long-running local hip hop producer wants Vegas rappers to shine
Las Vegas Hip Hop producer and co-owner of Digital Insight Recording Studios Tiger Stylz reflects on 30 years of music production in the city. (Marcus Villagran/Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
"Pawn Stars" fans visit Richard Harrison's memorial at Gold & Silver Pawn
"Pawn Stars" fans from around the world visit the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas following the passing of Richard "Old Man" Harrison on Monday, June 25, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Construction for new 51s ballpark underway
New home of the Las Vegas 51s is planned to be finished by March 2019 in Summerlin according to team president Don Logan. (Marcus Villagran/Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Underground home was built as Cold War-era hideaway
The underground house at 3970 Spencer Street is one of the valley’s most unusual homes built 26 feet underground in 1978 by Girard “Jerry” B. Henderson, who, planned to survive the end of the world there.
Lip Smacking Foodie Tours takes you where the locals go
Donald Contursi talks about Lip Smacking Foodie Tours, which offers walking tours of restaurants on and off Las Vegas Boulevard with food samples and tidbits of history about the places they visit.
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
Circular
You May Like

You May Like