Anshoo Sethi, the social-climbing young con artist who suckered prominent Illinois politicians into supporting his sham real-estate venture, has been indicted on federal charges of wire fraud and making false statements.
The indictment, handed down Wednesday by Chicago's U.S. Attorney, accuses Sethi of fraudently raising $160 million from 290 Chinese citizens who invested in his much-hyped (and nonexistent) venture to erect a $913 million hotel-and-convention center near O'Hare Airport. The 30-year-old exploited a federal immigration program that issues American visas to foreign investors who contribute $500,000 toward start-up businesses in high-unemployment areas—meanwhile, his development project had no building permits, construction plans or legit franchise deals with hotel chains.
As previously reported, Sethi—eager to hustle support from state government, which he viewed as helpful in legitimizing his over-the-top vision—managed to trick Gov. Pat Quinn, House Speaker Michael Madigan, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and former White House adviser David Axelrod's son with a vow to add 8,495 jobs to the state's imperiled economy.
He'd consulted the expertise of Madigan, who moonlights as a lawyer with a private practice, to win a 50 percent tax break on a three-acre area east of O'Hare. In the fall of 2011, he sweet-talked Quinn into meeting with him for a photo-op while the governor was on a business trip in China.
Acting on a whistleblower's tip, the feds eventually busted Sethi's two-year scam in early 2013 and froze the Chinese money. A settlement was reached in March of this year that mandated he return the $147 million and pay a $3.9 million fine.
According to the indictment, Sethi is alleged to have spent at least $320,000 of that cash on on "luxury goods for himself, his family, and friends."
He faces a max of 20 years in prison for each count of wire fraud (he's got eight) and five for each count of making false statements (he's got two).
Sethi's attorney, Patrick Collins, told the Chicago Tribune in a statement, "While Mr. Sethi made serious mistakes in judgment, he was grossly ill-served by certain of the so-called '(visa) experts' and advisers that he engaged. In addition, the evidence will show that there were individuals who used the project to pursue their own private interests to the detriment of Mr. Sethi and the investors."