Oakland Businessman Accused In $110M Immigration Scam


Oakland Businessman Accused In $110M Immigration Scam

By Betty Yu

OAKLAND (KPIX 5) – Oakland businessman Thomas Henderson, 70, is accused of being the mastermind behind a $110 million immigration scam, according to the US Attorney’s Office.

He promised to create 2,000 jobs in Oakland through a visa program known as EB-5. It gives green cards to investors who contribute $500,000 dollars to a U.S. business that creates at least 10 full-time jobs.

In reality, the US Attorney’s Office says Henderson and two associates took money from 200 Asian investors to enrich themselves and pay for other business ventures, many of which failed.

The newly unsealed federal indictment says investors believed they were paying to fund businesses sponsored by Henderson’s San Francisco Regional Center. Its website advertises: “Safe investments to set your family on the path to American citizenship.”

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“The disappointing thing is that they’re many Chinese, they wholeheartedly think that they are putting money and they are selling picture like ‘oh you can stay, getting a green card,'” said Chinese community activist Carl Chan.

Carl Chan is a well-known Chinese community activist in Oakland. He recalls attending an informational meeting with Henderson about 6 years ago.

“He actually came to our community and did talk to many potential investors and in fact many of us, including myself and many business people, we went to the presentation. It was very impressive.”

Chan did not invest in Henderson’s EB-5 programs.


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According to the indictment, the scheme happened between 2011 and 2017. Henderson allegedly siphoned investor money to fund projects including “restaurants, a website marketing company, an athletic shoe company, a sausage company, and other ventures.”

He also bought the historic Tribune Tower in 2011, the former I.Magnin department store building on Broadway, and the Dufwin Building on 17th street.

Henderson was arrested in Oakland Tuesday and is facing charges of conspiracy and wire fraud. If convictied, he faces a maximum of 20 years in prison.



Disgraced Oakland businessman charged in $110 million immigration scam

Thomas Henderson once owned the landmark Tribune Tower and I. Magnin building in downtown Oakland

Thomas Henderson, an Oakland investor, stands in the old Acorn Market at the Jack London Gateway shopping center in Oakland, Calif. on Friday, Jan. 24, 2015. (Laura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group Archives)


OAKLAND — He was once the proud owner of the landmark Tribune Tower who promised to create jobs during the economic downturn and bring a grocery store to the food desert of West Oakland. It was all a sham, authorities say.

A federal indictment unsealed Tuesday paints a more sinister picture of Oakland businessman Thomas Henderson: He’s accused of masterminding one of the largest immigration scams in state history to defraud more than 200 Asian investors of $110 million and using the proceeds not to create jobs, but to enrich himself and his business partners.

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The U.S. Attorney’s Office charged Henderson, 70, Cooper Lee, 42, and Kexing Hu, 40, a Chinese national, with criminal conspiracy and wire fraud. Instead of creating 2,000 jobs in Oakland, Henderson allegedly siphoned the investor money through an elaborate shell game to use in other failed ventures and to purchase downtown properties, including the Tribune Tower and the former I. Magnin department store building.

On Tuesday morning, federal authorities arrested Henderson in Oakland and Lee in Laguna Beach in Southern California. Hu, who was also identified as Peter Hu, remains at large. Henderson later appeared in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Donna Ryu and is scheduled to return to court on Oct. 1. All three defendants face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison per count and a $250,000 fine. Henderson could not be reached for comment.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office alleges Henderson defrauded Chinese, Vietnamese and Indian investors who gave him money through the EB-5 visa program. Under the program, foreign nationals can qualify for a U.S. visa if they make an investment in a project that creates at least 10 jobs. In areas with higher rates of unemployment, such as in Oakland, the investment can be a minimum of $500,000.

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“Many investors are unlikely to receive permanent legal residency” because jobs were not created,” according to the indictment.

Between 2011 and 2017, Henderson and his company, San Francisco Regional Center, raised $110 million from 200 foreign investors. The money was supposed to create jobs at call centers, a dairy processing business, a skilled nursing facility, a warehouse and a grocery store at Jack London Gateway in West Oakland.

The funds were improperly co-mingled into bank accounts controlled by Henderson. He used $2 million to open restaurants, $1.3 million to purchase the Tribune Tower, and other funds to start various apparel, food and web marketing businesses — none of which were EB-5 project ventures. His $1.4 million Oakland home was purchased using $346,000 of the funds, court records show.

Hu is alleged to have managed the center’s office in China, authorities said. Lee personally withdrew more than $290,000 of diverted funds, according to the indictment.

In all, Henderson and Hu are charged with 12 counts of wire fraud, while Lee is charged with six counts. All three are charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Henderson is also charged with one count each of making a false statement to a government agency and false writings to a government agency.

File photo of Thomas Henderson posing for a portrait on the 20th floor of the Tribune Tower in Oakland, Calif., in 2013. The East Bay born-and-raised entrepreneur was bringing jobs and real estate investments to downtown Oakland by setting up call centers in recent acquisitions like the landmark Tribune Tower and I. Magnin buildings. (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group)

Henderson’s fall from grace began in 2015, when a former business partner sued and accused him of withholding company accounting records and diverting funds, leading a judge to appoint a receiver to take control of his business. In court filings, the receiver claimed Henderson gave “sweetheart” leases at the Tribune Tower to his lawyer’s firm and for a time did not charge rent to the Tribune Tavern restaurant located on the ground floor. The court eventually sold his downtown properties.

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In 2016, Henderson was sued by a former business partner who was working to open a grocery store in West Oakland and was awarded $3.7 million. The store would have been the area’s only market, but it never opened.

Then in 2017, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed a federal lawsuit against Henderson, outlining the same scheme alleged by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“This case serves as a clear warning to all criminals who seek to profit off of the United States’ legal immigration system. We will locate, arrest, and aid in their prosecution in order to recoup any and all illicit gains,” said Tatum King, Special Agent in Charge, Homeland Security Investigations for San Francisco. “Besides posing a significant threat to national security and public safety, immigration benefit fraud and related schemes seriously rob immigrants who are deserving of these benefits while deterring investors who genuinely want to assist them.”

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