The head of a visa-investor operation in South Dakota pleaded guilty to illegally diverting funds, giving another black eye to the scandal-plagued EB-5 immigration program.
Watchdog.org reported on financial problems involving the South Dakota Regional Center three years ago, including bankruptcies and the auctioning of a $100 million slaughterhouse for $4.7 million.
The projects were funded largely by wealthy foreign nationals who invested a minimum of $500,000 in reputedly job-creating ventures to obtain U.S. green cards through the federal EB-5 program. Regional centers like the SDRC collect and disburse the money with approval from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Joop Bollen, 53, pleaded guilty to one felony count of illegally diverting funds from the SDRC. He was accused of funneling $1.2 million from a state account.
Authorities testified that he put back most of the money back, and Joop was sentenced to probation and fined $2,000.
David North, an EB-5 expert at the Center for Immigration Studies, called the fund diversion “a small side issue.”
“Scores of millions of dollars were lost by both the immigrant investors and by the state of South Dakota itself,” North said.
“Numerous EB-5 projects — including a massive beef slaughterhouse, a music hall and several dairy farms — failed and millions were lost as a result,” he said.
Despite efforts at reforming the EB-5 system nationally, rampant abuse persists at regional centers.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Ranking Member Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., oppose a reauthorization of the EB-5 visa program in a FY17 continuing resolution, without reform. The program was to sunset on September 30, 2016.

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