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FBI Investigates Ponzi Scheme in Texas EB-5 Visa Program

As Northern Beef Packers in Aberdeen trudges through bankruptcy and angles for a buyer, we have to keep wondering where all the money went. Millions of dollars in state aid and foreign investors buying their green cards and loans from secret offshore interests all went poof. How does over $152 million not produce functional wealth?

A similar EB-5 visa program in South Texas suggests one plausible explanation: money like that can disappear into a Ponzi scheme:

Federal authorities say a local company operated a Ponzi scheme under the guise of guiding wealthy Mexicans’ investments into local economic development projects that put them on the fast track to immigration status in the United States — only to use the money to buy luxury cars and pay off legal settlements.

FBI agents this month raided the McAllen offices of USA Now Regional Center and home of its owner and directors, Bebe and Marco Ramirez, saying the company took millions from wealthy Mexican investors seeking to escape that country’s drug violence and start anew north of the Rio Grande, but it then directed funds elsewhere without their clients’ discretion.

In all, five USA Now employees are named in the warrants as part of the FBI-led investigation into suspected wire fraud, money laundering and interstate or foreign transportation of stolen property, the warrant said.

No criminal charges have been filed against Bebe or Marco Ramirez, or any of their employees. The Monitor on Tuesday obtained the four search warrants and records detailing what agents recovered in two July 19 raids approved by U.S. Magistrate Judge Peter Ormsby.

FBI agents seized a Mercedes-Benz sedan, a Dodge Ram 3500 pickup truck, more than $29,000 in cash, reams of documents, a dozen firearms and other property owned by Bebe and Marco Ramirez, court records say [Jared Taylor, "Feds: Ponzi Scheme Preyed on Mexican Investors Seeking Visas," McAllen Monitor, 2013.07.30].

I haven't seen evidence of unusual Mercedes and firearm purchases in Aberdeen yet. But the massive and thus far fruitless foreign investment in Northern Beef Packers has been coordinated by the South Dakota Regional Center (SDRC, Inc.), a private entity just like USA Now, which lures foreign investors with visas and then dumps their money into projects like the bankrupt NBP and Veblen Dairies as well as going outfits like the Dakota Provisions turkey plant in Huron and the Deadwood Mountain Grand resort.

SDRC is taking advantage of a federal immigration program. It is carrying out the policies of our state's economic development office. Its books should be open and transparent so we can track what it does with every penny it receives from hopeful and wealthy immigrants and from any other source to ensure that nothing happens here like the Ponzi scheme the FBI suspects in Texas.