Lawsuit: Horseheads hotel project is 'illusion' for foreign investors looking for green cards
HORSEHEADS, N.Y. (WENY) -- After years of little to no activity, the so-called "ghost hotel" in Horseheads right off Interstate 86 is starting to make a little bit of progress since construction work started back up a few weeks ago. As WENY News has been reporting, the developer of the project is accused of writing a bad check worth more than $300,000 to a local contractor.
RELATED COVERAGE: Contractor speaks out about 'ghost hotel' in Horseheads
But WENY News found a very odd twist in the story. The whole project appears to be marketed as a way for foreign investors to buy their way into the United States. According to a recently filed lawsuit, the whole project is alleged to be a scheme to defraud people looking for a green card, and the hotel may never be finished.
In a lawsuit filed in Chemung County Supreme Court in January of this year, a Chinese national living in Delaware says he gave Finger Lake LLC owner Tom Shen, $520,000 an investment for the yet-to-be finished four story, 100-room hotel in Horseheads. The lawsuit goes on to say the individual gave the money to Shen also with the hopes of becoming an "immigrant investor" -- and Shen and another defendant, Suwei Yang, would help the plaintiff get his green card. According to the suit, that never happened, and Shen and Yang are accused of keeping the $520,000.
The attorney for the plaintiff, Robert Hooks with Woods Oviatt Gilman, LLP, tells WENY News it's still very early in the case.
"At this point, Mr Shen, and Ms. Yang have not answered the allegations of the complaint, so I can't answer or tell you what defenses they may try to raise and I won't know that until they answer the allegations of the compliant," explained Hooks.
The lawsuit includes laundry list of accusations against the hotel project, including alleging Shen and Yang never actually intended to ever build a hotel, and the construction is nothing more than just an "illusion" to other potential immigrant investors.
WENY News discovered documents online, where the project is being touted as a Best Western Plus, and asks for a $500,000 minimum investment. These documents also features pictures of the Horseheads hotel project during construction, and with a claim the project can be "seen and touched" as it works towards completion. But in the lawsuit filed against Shen; Shen, Yang, or Finger Lake LLC. never got approval from Best Western to open up a franchise.
Some of the documents related to the project show pictures of President Trump and Congress with an "EB-5" stamp plastered nearby.
Stephen Yale-Loehr, Professor of Immigration Law at Cornell Law School, talked to WENY News about the immigration program. He explained, "EB-5 is one way for people that people to immigrate to the United States, Congress set up this program in 1990, it requires investors to invest at least $500,000 that will create at least 10 jobs for U.S. workers, it's a long slow process and it can be quite complicated."
According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, once the EB-5 requirements are fulfilled, investors can get green cards for themselves and their family.
"A green card allows someone to live permanently in the United States; it differs from a temporary visa like a student visa, it is also not U.S citizenship, it's sort of half way on the path to becoming a U.S. citizen," said Yale-Loehr.
This latest lawsuit is not the only legal challenged facing the hotel, Finger Lake LLC or Tom Shen. As WENY News reported, Shen was arrested on July 13th, 2018 after a nine-month investigation on charges of Grand Larceny and Issuing a bad check.
The owner of O'Connor Plumbing and Heating, based in Chemung County, tells WENY News he was the victim of that bad check.
"I was written a check for $367,000 that I could cash on the 13th of October (2017). I deposited that check on the 16th of October, I believe, and the check was returned to me for insufficient funds," said John O'Connor in an interview with WENY in March 2019.
WENY News tried reaching out to Mr. Shen for a comment, but he was unable to be contacted.
WENY News also reached out to Best Western for more information, a representative with the hotel chain said any relationship between Best Western and the Horseheads hotel project was terminated months ago.
WENY News will continue to follow any developments in this story.