March 12, 2018 Print

Photo Credit: Associated Press | File 2012 Terry McAuliffe and former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour take a spin in a GreenTech electric car.

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe’s former company, GreenTech Automotive, which he founded in 2009, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Cited in the bankruptcy petition are 76 articles by Watchdog.org which highlighted the level of crony practices by the company. Watchdog, a website dedicated to providing oversight of state governments, is a project of the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity, an Atlas Network partner.

GreenTech, an automobile manufacturer which produced small electric vehicles, is the focus of dozens of reports by Watchdog.org in relation to its abuse of the EB-5 visa program to lure Chinese investors into funding the company. The EB-5 visa allows foreign investors to receive resident status in the United States with an investment of $500,000 or more in a business venture that provides jobs to Americans. Many of the investors who moved to the United States under the promise of receiving residency status may be forced to return to China due to GreenTech’s bankruptcy, and an audit by the state of Mississippi has recommended that GreenTech return nearly $6.4 million of incentives to investors after failing to meet promises.

Despite a campaign for governor based on his business prowess with GreenTech, Governor McAuliffe resigned from the company following the accusations, and was fully separated from the company before his gubernatorial race.

Following the accusations, GreenTech sued the Franklin Center for $85 million in damage to brand and potential sales. The suit was quickly dismissed by the presiding judge. Watchdog’s investigators visited the site of the plant in Mississippi and were met with police presence and silence from GreenTech’s representatives.

"Watchdog.org was one of the first news sites in 2013 to expose GreenTech's fraudulent use of the EB-5 investment program,” said Danielle Behler, director of development at the Franklin Center. “They attempted to sue the Franklin Center, sought to intimidate those in charge then, and publicly shamed the Watchdog.org team for its bold reporting. Now, years later, GreenTech is being held accountable for its business practices.”

A number of lawsuits have been filed by investors as a result of Watchdog’s investigative journalism reports.

“We stood by our brand of watchdog journalism then and we take pride now in knowing that our important work continues to shine light on stories that otherwise would not be in the news,” continued Behler. “GreenTech raised $141.5 million in startup funds between 2009 and 2013 in four rounds of fundraising that made use of the EB-5 investment program. That's real money, and it appears as if it was made by misleading foreign investors and abusing American policies designed to spur economic development, according to a number of lawsuits filed against it." 

The Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity is a partner of Atlas Network and has received a grant to support its Watchdog.org investigative journalism project.