A company called Romerica Investments, LLC filed applications with the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to develop hundreds of acres of land currently in the floodplain, the floodway and wetlands near the San Jacinto. The land is between Kingwood Lakes and the San Jacinto River, east of Woodland Hills Drive. If the Army Corps approves the permit, buildings could range up to 50 stories on land deed-restricted to single-family use. Meanwhile, numerous other questions have arisen about the maze of companies, including the Romerica Group, behind what Houston City Council Member Dave Martin has described as a $2.5 billion proposal.
35 Companies Controlled by Two Men
Searches have revealed 35 companies so far that are registered with the Texas Secretary of State that belong to Gabriel M. Haddad and Fabio M. Covarrubias. Both men use multiple variations on their names, making it difficult to nail down a precise number of companies and partnerships that they control. They also register additional companies and partnerships in other states and countries, making ownership and accountability even more difficult to track.
Romerica Investments does not have a functioning public-facing informational website that I can find; RomericaInvestments.com, which was registered in 2016, still leads to a “Future Home of…” page. However, clicking on the Romerica Investment link from the Romerica Group home page takes you to a password-protected login page at separate website address for the Kingwood Marina Project. This website was registered by Romerica Investments.com.
A new and separate promotional website developed by Manlove Advertising and PR for the developers now implies that the Romerica Group will be responsible for the development. Yet there is no Romerica Group registered to do business in the State of Texas. This search of the Secretary of State’s SOS Direct database returned nothing close to the Romerica Group.
Romerica Group’s website says they have 12 projects currently “running” in the U.S. and Mexico. However, a review of the company’s many websites found only two related to real-estate development – one in each country. The US project in Kingwood has not been constructed and the website for the development in Mexico shows only conceptual drawings. The Romerica Group website shows nine related entities, discussed below.
Motor Sports Resort
In November 2014, Covarrubias and Haddad bought a race track in Angleton at One Performance Drive in the middle of farmland (see below). Built in 2005, it was originally called MSR Houston. MSR stood for Motor Speedway Ranch. Photos on the site suggest that the tallest building on the property is two to three stories. It sold memberships and track time to owners of high-performance vehicles who wanted to drive fast legally in a controlled environment.
AFTER the track fell into financial difficulties, Covarrubias and Haddad bought the property under the names Piffer and Giorgi in November, 2014,. They bought it through one of their 35 companies called Romerica Entertainment, LLC.
On Christmas Eve of 2014, Piffer (using the name Fabio M. Covarrubias) promised the members of the race track that Romerica Entertainment would make many improvements to the facility, including building a four-star hotel. More than four years later, there’s still no sign of the hotel in satellite photos, the Brazoria County appraisal district website or legal filings related to the property.
The Motor Sports Resort site mentions a real-estate company, MSR Houston Real Estate, that was supposedly introducing a master plan for the track by the summer of 2018. The MSR Houston web site does say, “Coming Soon,” but the Texas Secretary of State shows no record of such a company and a google search for it returned no results except the one below. I can find no details of a master plan on the website.
Tramontana and Lotus Driving Academy
The Romerica Group website also claims to have two other automotive related ventures:
- Lotus Driving Academy located at the track.
- MSR Tramontana LLC features a high-performance car. However, the site does not say what the group’s contribution to the vehicle is. It says that they are one-of-a-kind vehicles with “excellent levels of production and development” but doesn’t say how many have been built or how to buy one. Tramontana has a separate, dedicated website. That offers a little more detail. But on their partner page, they list a branding company, two fashion designers, and a web developer. I could find no references to manufacturing partners or where the vehicles were made.
Romerica Group’s website also shows a company, FAMA Design, that sells rustic doors, windows and furniture online. Unfortunately, when you try to order something, you find that the site’s security certificate has expired. You get the following warning:
Romerica Insurance does not have its own web site. However, it does have several Facebook pages. They sell many different types of insurance, including – ironically – flood insurance. FaceBook also lists an office for the insurance company at the Angleton racetrack.
Romerica Real Estate
Romerica Real Estate does not have its own web site either. The link to Romerica Real Estate from the Romerica Groups Home Page is broken. HAR.com (Houston Area Realors) says that the Romerica Real Estate “page is no longer active.” Same for FaceBook. A Google search returns dozens of other “page not found” error messages. The Texas Real Estate Commission (TREC) shows that the company’s account is “inactive.” TREC also lists the real estate company’s address as the racetrack in Angleton.
Another link from the Romerica Group Home Page goes to Torrenova Cuernavaca. The subhead says it deals with Romerica land in Mexico. Last month, clicking on the link yielded another dead-end search.
However, the Torrenova-Cueranvaca site has since been updated to include concept drawings. It shows no actual photos of anything the “company” has constructed, though the site does list prices. Like the Romerica Group itself, Torrenova Cuernavaca is not registered to do business in the state of Texas (though in fairness, the site is in Spanish).
American Vision EB-5
American Vision Regional Center also appears on the Romerica Group home page. American Vision’s contact page shows that the formal name for the company as “B US TOTAL INVESTOR, LLC.” It IS registered in the State of Texas. B US TOTAL INVESTOR lists American Vision Regional Center as its assumed name. Gabriel M. Haddad, one of the managers, lists his address on a street that does not exist.
American Vision Regional Center solicits investments through the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Service EB-5 program. EB-5 visas offer a legal pathway into the U.S. for foreign investors, their spouses and family members under 21.
While the EB-5 program is real, the developer’s website features a building that purports to be part of the Marina project, but is not. The building’s construction was canceled due to lack of pre-leasing activity; it was actually designed for a project in downtown Houston on Waugh unrelated to the developers.
- The contact phone number for the site is disconnected.
- The office has been reported as vacant.
- The site refers people to another site that does not exist (AmericanVisionCenterEB5.com).
- The developers have been highlighted in InternationalAppraiser.com for “touting fake EB-5 projects.”
- Foreign investors are suing the developers for fraud in Houston district court. (See MARIA DEL CARMEN BORBOLLA AND MARIA DEL CARMEN GOMEZ, CAUSE NO. 2018 – 07276, 157th Judicial Court, Harris County, Tx.)
- Clicking on the home page of AmericanVision.com takes the viewer to an unrelated site (AmericanVision.org) that sells religious books. AmericanVision.org is registered to a seemingly unrelated company in Paris, France.
- The landing page for AmericanVision.com shows links to four sub-pages: Why EB-5?, Info For Investors, FAQs, and Our Parters. Links to each page are broken. They take you to a “page not found” error message on the bookstore site.
Warning to Potential EB-5 Investors
If you are considering investing in ANY EB-5 project, understand that the EB-5 program has been plagued by fraud. Visit this Securities and Exchange Commission page (Investor Alert: Investment Scams Exploit Immigrant Investor Program). It explains how to check out the validity of projects and recognize the warning signs of fraud.
The SEC’s first warning sign: “Promises of a visa or becoming a lawful permanent resident.” The text explains, “Investing through EB-5 makes you eligible to apply for a conditional visa, but there is no guarantee that USCIS will grant you a conditional visa or subsequently remove the conditions on your lawful permanent residency. USCIS carefully reviews each case and denies cases where eligibility rules are not met. Guarantees of the receipt or timing of a visa or green card are warning signs of fraud.”
Copy on the AmericanVision.com About Us Page clearly states that their program was “…designated by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to offer Investor Visa / Green Card through the EB5 Immigrant Investor Program.”
To be clear, I am not accusing Romerica or its management of fraud. I am merely repeating US government advice for investors to be cautious in these circumstances.
Domain-Registration Dead End
A “WhoIs” database search for the owner of AmericanVision.com showed that the domain name is owned by Romerica Investments.
Although the domain RomericaInvestments.com was registered in 2016, it still shows a “Future Home of” page and nothing else. A WhoIs search for RomericaInvestments.com does not show a contact for the web site.
When Will Developers Appear to Answer Questions?
Numerous questions exist about the people applying for permits to build high-rises feet away from the floodway of the San Jacinto? They surely know that the area where they want to build 25-50 story high rises will soon be INCLUDED in the floodway when new flood maps are approved. Who would build there? Why?
I do not wish to speculate on the motives of the developers. I can only point out inconsistencies that do not inspire confidence. Especially for someone developing what Houston City Council Member Dave Martin has described as a $2.5 billion project. Especially when they’ve shown no evidence that they have ever built anything.
Despite my seven requests for a meeting, the developers have refused to meet publicly to answer questions. Their official point of contact at the Manlove Advertising and PR agency has stated that they may consider one AFTER the public comment period closes.
One can only hope that the Army Corps and TCEQ will exercise due diligence in consideration of these permit requests.
As always, these comments represent my opinions on matters of public policy. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP statute of the Great State of Texas.
Posted by Bob Rehak on February 17, 2019
538 Days After Hurricane Harvey