A Seattle-area real estate financier allegedly defrauded Chinese investors seeking U.S. residency of more than $17 million to pursue personal projects and support a luxury lifestyle.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission announced an asset freeze obtained against Lobsang Dargey, of Bellevue, Wash., in the U.S. District Court, Western District of Washington, Seattle Division on Tuesday.
Dargey is owner of Dargey Development, which in turn owns Path America, LLC and several related companies. The companies raised an estimated $125 million to construct a skyscraper in downtown Seattle and a mixed-use development in nearby Everett, Wash., from 250 Chinese investors seeking residency through the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Pilot Program.
Under the EB-5 program, foreign citizens may qualify for residency if they make a qualified investment of at least $500,000 in a specified project that creates or preserves at least 10 jobs for U.S. workers. Dargey allegedly solicited investments of $500,000 per client, plus an administrative fee of $45,000 per investor for the two projects.
According to the SEC complaint, Dargey told U.S. immigration officials and the EB-5 investors that the $125 million would be used only for the skyscraper and mixed-use development projects. Dargey also allegedly misled investors about their ability to obtain permanent residency through investing in the projects, failing to tell them that immigration officials can deny residency applications if money is used for projects that depart from approved business plans.
The SEC alleges that Dargey diverted $14 million for unrelated real estate projects and another $3 million for personal use, including the purchase of a $2.5 million home and cash withdrawals at casinos. Dargey also allegedly failed to tell investors that they had departed from a business plan that had been approved by immigration officials, jeopardizing their ability to seek residency through the EB-5 program.
The SEC also alleges that as of June 2015, the fraudulent scheme was ongoing, as the complaint claims that Dargey continued to withdraw cash from investor-funded bank accounts, including $12,000 withdrawn at gambling establishments. As recently as May 2015, investor funds were still being withdrawn for unrelated real estate projects, as Dargey and his companies used almost $6 million of the money to purchase property in Shoreline, Wash.
Furthermore, the SEC claims that between September 2013 and May 2015, Dargey and his company transferred more than $3 million to an account in Hong Kong.
In addition to the asset freeze, the SEC was also granted orders restraining Dargey and his companies from soliciting additional investors and requiring Dargey to repatriate funds transferred to foreign bank accounts.
In pending litigation, the SEC will seek to bar Dargey and his companies from participating in the sale, purchase, or promotion of any security, undisclosed disgorgement of ill-gotten gains, and yet-to-be-determined civil penalties.