Watchdog says casino-hotel won green light with Reid's help

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

LAS VEGAS (AP) — When a $415 million casino-hotel needed its immigration visa applications sped through for foreign investors in order to keep the business deal alive, Nevada Sen. Harry Reid leaned on the director of the agency overseeing the visa program to make it happen, according to a Homeland Security inspector general's report released Wednesday.

A report released Wednesday said SLS Las Vegas received special treatment when the director expedited the petitions after agency staff turned down the request.

The SLS Las Vegas request was among a few mentioned in the report and investigated by the agency watchdog after staff complained that U.S. Citizens and Immigration Services Director Alejandro Mayorkas was playing favorites with politically-connected projects.

Well before the hip casino-hotel debuted last year, its owners were in need of funding and found some of it from foreigners willing to invest at least $500,000 each with the promise of a U.S. visa in return as part of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services' EB-5 program.

The overall financial deal, though, was contingent on a portion of hundreds of those investors getting their visa petitions approved within a few months.

Agency staff told SLS Las Vegas that the petitions couldn't be sped up ahead of others because the deadline was of the developer's own design. But according to the report, Reid's office soon contacted staff and eventually Mayorkas to urge the petitions be expedited. Mayorkas did, despite staff concerns that it wasn't warranted and would set a bad precedent if others knew they could cut in line.

The report said weekly briefings were held with Reid's office for several months thereafter.

"Senator Reid's work helped get SLS built and created thousands of Nevada jobs," said spokeswoman Kristen Orthman in an emailed statement. Reid wasn't involved in the security screening process of the applicants, she said.

Orthman said the Senate minority leader "considers it part of his basic responsibility as Nevada's senator to ensure that projects that benefit Nevada get fair and timely consideration from the federal government."

A representative for SLS Las Vegas declined to comment on the report's findings.

SBE Group and Stockbridge Capital debuted the 1,600-room SLS Las Vegas last year on the Las Vegas Strip's north end as a pricey renovation of the Sahara casino-hotel.