Feds Investigating Iran Ties to Firm Involved in US Visa Program

Documents: Iranian operatives may be abusing program to "infiltrate" U.S.

ByABC News
February 3, 2015, 7:35 AM

— -- Federal agents in Los Angeles are investigating an L.A. shipping firm and its Iranian-born owner who for years have participated in and promoted an obscure U.S. immigration program -- allowing the company to recruit wealthy foreign investors to receive visas and potentially Green Cards, law enforcement sources told ABC News.

The company’s name surfaced in a confidential Department of Homeland Security government document, which raised “concerns that this particular visa program may be abused by Iranian operatives to infiltrate the United States.”

Whistleblowers inside the federal agency that oversees the immigration program told ABC News they have been deeply frustrated by an inability to de-certify the company, even after they became aware of the investigation and saw the company’s name surface in an alarming internal Department Homeland Security memo. The memo, shared with ABC News, outlines concerns that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have attempted to exploit the visa program “to infiltrate the United States.”

The program, known by the visa designation “EB-5,” offers wealthy foreign investors a way to bypass the traditional route to a Green Card. It requires they invest between $500,000 and $1 million in a certified company or project that creates U.S. jobs. The Los Angeles company, American Logistics International, first applied to participate in the program in 2009 and first began submitting names of investors for visa approval in 2011.

U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley said the case of American Logistics was recently brought to his attention by whistleblowers inside the federal agency who were frustrated that it was so difficult to disqualify companies participating in the EB-5 program, no matter how serious their concerns.

“The whistleblowers have come forward and said there's reason to be concerned whether our national security is being comprised,” Grassley said.

American Logistics executives declined to be interviewed, but an attorney for the company said neither the company nor its owner, Alireza Mahdavi, have engaged in any illegal activity.

The company has maintained its certification to be part of the immigrant visa program, even as agents served a search warrant at the offices of a second shipping company, looking for records about American Logistics and its owner. Documents show investigators were looking into ties between a former employee of the second firm, Total Transportation Concepts (TTC), and American Logistics because the two companies shared common owners and executives, including Mahdavi.

The records show that the TTC employee was suspected of ties to an Iranian terror network that was involved in bombing plots and attempted assassinations. In 2012, federal investigators sent an email to immigration officials to advise them against re-certifying American Logistics for the immigration program, warning that an approval “would likely have serious national security implications.”

“I strongly advise against a favorable adjudication,” wrote a Homeland Security Special Agent in the Counter-Proliferation Investigations Center in the April 30, 2012 email.

But agents with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) moved forward and green-lighted American Logistics and Mahdavi, to continue overseeing a designated “regional center” for a special U.S. immigration program for wealthy foreigners known by its visa classification, EB-5.