OAKLAND – Thomas Henderson was sentenced today to 16 months in prison for making a false statement to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and for his role in a conspiracy to defraud foreign investors who were investing in Oakland-based businesses as a means to obtain permanent U.S. residency announced United States Attorney Stephanie M. Hinds; U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) Special Agent in Charge William Chang; Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent in Charge Tatum King; and Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge Robert K. Tripp. The sentence was handed down by Chief United States District Judge Richard Seeborg.
Henderson, 72, of Oakland, pleaded guilty to the charges on July 21, 2021. According to his plea agreement, Henderson admitted he formed the San Francisco Regional Center, LLC (SFRC) in 2010 to raise money from foreign investors through the “EB-5” visa program, a job-creation and immigration program administered by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Under the USCIS program, foreign nationals may obtain permanent United States residency, commonly known as a Green Card, by investing in qualifying U.S. businesses and creating jobs for U.S. citizens and residents. To receive a two-year grant of conditional permanent residency status, foreign investors must meet certain requirements for an entry visa, comply with program requirements and make an investment of a minimum of $1 million, or $500,000 if the investment is made in certain areas of high unemployment. After two years, the foreign investor and immediate family can petition for permanent residency after meeting program requirements, including the creation of at least 10 jobs for United States citizens and residents through the business funded by the investment.
From 2011 to 2017, SFRC raised more than $100 million from foreign investors for seven commercial enterprises approved under the EB-5 program. In his plea agreement, Henderson admitted that he conspired with his business associate, Cooper Lee, and others to defraud investors who sought to avail themselves of the EB-5 program. Specifically, Henderson admitted that by at least the middle of 2014, SFRC began using investor funds for purposes and projects other than the specific enterprise corresponding to the investment, and that investors were not specifically told that their investment funds would be or were used for those purposes. For example, Henderson admitted that funds raised from 42 investors for the enterprise North America 3PL LP were used for other projects and businesses, including to fund the operation of earlier struggling projects. Henderson also admitted that he made false statements to USCIS when he submitted a declaration to the agency regarding the use of North America 3PL investor funds.
Lee also pleaded guilty to participating in the conspiracy. According to Lee’s plea agreement, from about August 2016 to January 2017, Lee conspired with Henderson to divert some funds raised for the EB-5 enterprise operating as California Gold Medal LP to other EB-5 enterprises and businesses controlled by Henderson. Lee admitted that he transferred funds and prepared documents to make it appear that the transfers were for legitimate business transactions.
On August 15, 2019, a federal grand jury indicted Henderson and Lee, charging both with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1349. In addition, Henderson was charged with 12 counts of wire fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1343; conspiracy to commit offenses against the United States, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371; making a false statement to a government agency, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001(a)(2); and making false writings to a government agency, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001(a)(3). Lee, in addition to being charges with conspiracy, also was charged with six counts of wire fraud.
Pursuant to Henderson’s plea agreement, he pleaded guilty to the conspiracy to commit wire fraud count and the false statements count. The remaining counts against Henderson were dismissed at sentencing. In addition to the prison term, Judge Seeborg also ordered Henderson to serve three years on supervised release. Restitution will be determined at a later date.
On July 21, 2021, Lee pleaded guilty to the conspiracy count and on April 26, 2022, Judge Seeborg sentenced Lee to serve three years’ probation and to pay $20,000 restitution to a receiver appointed by the court in a separate action to recover assets for the victim investors. The remaining counts against Lee were dismissed.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Lloyd Farnham is prosecuting the case, with the assistance of Patricia Mahoney. The prosecution was the result of an investigation led by the U.S. Department of State Diplomatic Security Service’s representative to the Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force (DBFTF), overseen by the HSI, with the participation of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The DBFTF is a multi-agency task force that coordinates investigations into fraudulent immigration documents. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service’s Office of Fraud Detection and National Security also assisted with the investigation. Additional assistance was provided by the San Francisco Regional Office of the Securities and Exchange Commission.