Lobsang Dargey is expected to plead guilty Wednesday morning to charges of fraud and concealing information from the government, which carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
Developer Lobsang Dargey fooled lots of people.
First, it was hundreds of investors from Asia who funneled $150 million into his projects with the hope of receiving a green card under a U.S. program designed to give permanent residency to foreigners who create jobs. Then it was the federal government, which gave conditional green cards to the foreign investors, relying on Dargey’s assurances.
Next up, companies from America to China invested tens of millions of dollars in the projects after seeing bank statements showing Dargey personally helped bankroll the developments.
Dargey even persuaded Lt. Gov. Brad Owen to talk up his plans overseas, and got Seattle Mayor Ed Murray to celebrate Dargey’s new Belltown tower at a groundbreaking ceremony.
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Dargey, who had projects in Seattle, Everett, Shoreline and Kirkland, was planning to expand his enterprise to Oregon and California.
But it was a scheme built on lies, according to documents released Tuesday that charge Dargey with federal crimes.
The federal government charged Dargey, 43, with two counts of fraud and concealing information from the government. The former impoverished Tibetan monastery student, who initially appeared to have a remarkable rags-to-riches story, is set to plead guilty Wednesday morning in U.S. District Court in Seattle, according to a U.S. Attorney’s Office filing.
The maximum penalty is 10 years in prison. His attorney, Bob Mahler, said Dargey, who is not in custody, had agreed to a plea deal but declined to discuss the terms until after Wednesday’s hearing.
“He deeply regrets any disappointment or harm that he may have caused (the investors), and he’s working very hard to make sure that they get the benefit of their investments,” Mahler said.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office says much of the foreign investors’ money actually went toward Dargey’s personal gain and to enrich himself and his associates, including $31,000 in jewelry and a $1.4 million home in Bellevue for a colleague from Asia.
He drove a $212,000 Bentley and owned a $2.4 million home in Bellevue for his kids and wife, who is the sister of tennis star Andre Agassi.
The federal agency that approved the short-term visas for the Asian investors under the EB-5 program was relying on false information, the complaint says.
That has jeopardized the permanent green-card status of more than 200 foreign investors, who have since moved to the United States.
And the financial institutions that approved $85 million in loans were actually viewing phony bank statements showing Dargey’s accounts had more than $8 million, when in reality the account had less than $450,000.
The charges against Dargey were not shocking: The Securities and Exchange Commission had already halted his business, which went under the name Path America, in a civil case in August 2015. And Dargey’s lawyer had revealed more than a year ago he was under criminal investigation.
That civil case halted construction on Dargey’s signature project, the $190 million Potala Tower in Belltown, which Murray celebrated.
The 41-story apartment tower in recent months resumed construction at 2116 Fourth Ave., with the help of the original foreign investors’ cash, under a new developer that helped pay Dargey’s attorneys fees.
Dargey also built the Potala Farmer’s Market in Everett and had plans for developments in Shoreline, Othello and Kirkland; he secretly transferred funds between the various projects, the U.S. Attorney’s Office says.
Mahler noted that Dargey’s projects have spurred the creation of jobs and economic stimulus in Everett and Seattle, “and he’s very proud of that.”
“Both projects are going to be completely successful,” Mahler said.
He added that Dargey was cooperating with federal authorities and was helping to ensure that the foreign investors secure their green cards by selling his interests to other development firms that have used the EB-5 program in the past.
Dargey’s plan started simple and grew increasingly complex, with each lie paving the way to a new one, according to the charging documents.
Starting with the Everett project in 2012, he raised $43.6 million from 80 investors in Asia — each giving $500,000 plus a $45,000 “administrative fee” designed to cover commissions and other overhead costs.
The half-million-dollar portion was meant to go to construction, creating jobs and allowing each investor to receive permanent U.S. residency under the EB-5 program. He told investors in marketing materials that their money came with a “green card guarantee.”
The same pattern repeated with the Potala Tower project in Belltown — when he persuaded 202 investors to chip in $110 million starting in 2013.
But the feds say Dargey used large chunks of the money meant for construction for various “syndication” costs, including shifting money between his various planned developments and paying agents to secure more investments.
He then lied to his investors multiple times: He declined to tell them about the money shifting between projects — even though it would endanger their green-card status — and didn’t tell them he was relying on large construction loans for the Everett and Belltown projects.
The two financial institutions duped — Voya Financial in the United States and Binjiang in China — first received false financial documents to secure construction loans.
Then after the loans went through, their due diligence firms received altered status reports from Dargey’s company.
The case is the latest in a string of controversies surrounding the EB-5 program, which has been criticized for its potential for wrongdoing — and Dargey is not the first to be charged for defrauding investors.
More than $2 billion in EB-5 funds have poured into Seattle projects in recent years. Congress faces a decision this spring on whether to renew the program.