The Caption Should Have Read: "EB-5 Investor Ducks Courthouse Camera"

By David North on October 10, 2012

We rarely see news photos of EB-5 investors, legitimate or illegitimate, but we almost did in yesterday's New York Times. EB-5 is the immigrant investor program.

The picture of Ofer Biton, the would-be EB-5 investor, was partially obscured by the large left hand of Bennett Orfaly, who has ties "to a member of the Gambino organized crime family", according to the paper. It is quite a picture and quite a story.

The crime family member is Fat Tony Morelli, now serving a 20-year prison term for tax fraud.

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The photo, by Times photographer Victor J. Blue, is a classic of its kind, and the paper's management recognized it, displaying it over two-thirds of the top of a page. It shows the burly Orfaly, with heavily tattooed forearms, between the camera and the indicted investor, who, in turn, is also partially hidden by a child (probably his own) that he is carrying. Behind them is an attractive, slim woman, perhaps the child's mother, and behind them all is the entrance to the U.S. Courthouse in Brooklyn. It is nicely composed, with the large hand of Orfaly directly in the center of the photo.

The story's headline dealt more with Orfaly than Biton: "U.S. Ties Legislator’s Ex-Associate to Mob". The congressman is Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) who represents Staten Island and is one of the rare GOP House members from New York City.

According to the paper, Orfaly had been a business partner of the congressman (they owned a restaurant together), and Biton, though an illegal alien, had (unlawfully) raised substantial campaign funds for Grimm in the 2010 election. Grimm is a first-term member of the House and a former FBI agent.

In the photo Biton apparently was emerging from a bail hearing — his eighth — in the courthouse.

Unfortunately this most recent Times story (and there have been several of them) was not specific about Biton's courtroom problems, simply saying that he is "charged with immigration fraud".

As we pointed out in an earlier blog, Biton not only had an EB-5 application rejected (right on, USCIS!), but he had been investigated by ICE (onward ICE!) for fraud in making the application. He apparently lied to USCIS about the source of the money, which, prosecutors say, came from extortion.

The EB-5 program, which gives families of investors a handful of green cards for a single half-a-million-dollar investment that is supposed to produce 10 jobs, also requires that the money come from a legitimate source.

Biton is being investigated for several crimes and the EB-5 violation sometimes gets lost among all the other matters.

Orfaly, loyal to his ally, had been in court seeking, successfully, to help bail Biton out of jail, where he has been for the last couple of months. The Times report said:

"Mr. Orfaly maintains constant contact" with Mr. Morelli in prison, Mr. Capozzolo [a U.S. prosecutor] told the court …. "our position is that this is not someone who should be acceptable as a surety with regard to Mr. Briton."

The judge rejected that part of the argument and allowed Briton to be released on a "$1.5 million bond package".

This is not the first time that the EB-5 program has been burdened with such headlines, as we outlined in an earlier CIS report, nor will it be the last.