By MICHAEL RODRIGUEZ
In an effort to authenticate and identify the viability of future projects proposed to the City of San Benito and the San Benito Economic Development Corporation, administrators and elected officials are currently exploring the potential of implementing state standards in their background check process.
Such action comes after a San Benito News investigation exposed discrepancies in information purported by power plant developers on their websites. Specifically, the News could not verify where Telemark Development Group Inc. or its parent companies PowerCom International and Franklin Global Resources operate, nor could certain information purported on said entities’ websites be authenticated.
As previously reported, Telemark is the company that proposed to construct a 171 megawatt, $225 million natural gas-fueled power plant at the city’s old airport property by encouraging foreign investors to take advantage of the Employment Based: Fifth Preference (EB-5) federal program, which awards conditional permanent residency in exchange for a $500,000 to $1 million investment in a targeted employment area.
“That’s being discussed, and of course it’s been shared with me whether this is something that the administration needs to put together,” City Manager Manuel Lara said about the possibility of incorporating preliminary research based on state standards. Such research may be conducted, if implemented, prior to EDC and city officials engaging in any talks with individuals proposing projects. “It’s a topic of discussion. We have an executive director and this may be a directive to him by the board, which is a board appointed by the commission. What you have brought to the table will make sure we do an orientation or a checklist of things that must be done before any project is introduced to the EDC board and especially the elected officials.”
But EDC Executive Director Salomon Torres, who indicated on Tuesday that Telemark’s proposal was conceptual and that the company had yet to make an offer for the airport property, said such measures are already in place.
“We already have a checklist; it’s always been in place,” Torres said. “What varies from project to project is the time that the information is requested. You may ask for the same financial information, you may request it a few weeks later or upon the first visit. It varies on the project, and the type of information that’s requested is pretty uniform.
“What we do is a mix of investigation but also the merits of a project. It’s one thing to verify their voracity and authenticity, but it’s another to review the merits of their business proposal.”
Lara, however, specified that the type of research conducted on any proposal be up to par with what the State of Texas implements.
“I want to try to get some guidance from the state as to what they recommend and their guidelines for entertaining prospects for the State of Texas and implementing the same guidelines,” Lara said. “I think we can streamline that more and make sure that what’s brought to the table are only viable projects that meets the minimum checklist requirements, and we’ll put that responsibility on the EDC staff.”
“I think that would be excellent and give people a roadmap on what should be done on all future projects,” Lara added. “But all this is being discussed; there has been no direct action.”
Place 3 City Commissioner JD Penny shared similar sentiments before acknowledging initial work done by Lara and Torres in vetting Telemark.
“The city manager and Mr. Torres do go by their checks and balances, and I’m thinking they did ask for their (Telemark’s) credentials,” Penny said. “We even had to ask our attorney for their credentials. I’m sure they weren’t going to make any sort of announcement until they had all their ducks lined up and in a row. Everyone has to look up and see if these companies are real, and I’m sure our city manager and Mr. Torres would have to go through all that before it even comes to the mayor and the commissioners.”
Penny continued, “We need the jobs at this location, and it’s good that a company is looking into San Benito, but we do need to do our homework before making any commitments. We’ve had some companies in the past that tried to come in but for some reason didn’t want to show us their books, and if you don’t show us any of those books we can’t commit to your project.”
Websites for Telemark, PowerCom and Franklin Global as well as six other companies associated with Peter Del Mastro—identified as either the President, Chairman of the Board or Chief Executive Officer of the entities in question—list the address 850 South Boulder, #120, Henderson, Nev. That address goes back to a UPS store PO Box.
Also, through collaboration with Nevada journalist and Henderson Press Editor Buford Davis, a photo on PowerCom’s “Contact Us” webpage displaying the company’s logo on a building was proven to be doctored. Davis found the building 10 miles from Henderson to Las Vegas, Nev., where the edifice was discovered vacant, without the PowerCom logo and displaying the number 2373—the street address associated with its Renaissance Drive location. In addition, a search of 2373 Renaissance Dr. in Las Vegas yielded no results to support that any of Del Mastro’s companies ever rented, leased or owned the property.
Del Mastro cited “tax purposes” when asked about his companies’ Henderson, Nev. address going back to a UPS store PO Box. When pressed for an explanation concerning the doctored photo purported to be PowerCom offices on the PowerCom website, Del Mastro, in a telephone interview with the News on Friday, said, “We’ve never made representation that we owned the building. There was another group that was in there that we were sharing space with, and we’ve gone ahead and … we don’t have any shared space there at all.”
The PowerCom photo has since been removed from its website.
What’s more, Del Mastro said, “It really doesn’t matter, because as of Monday the City of San Benito will be receiving a letter, the mayor will, that we’re withdrawing any interests in the property at the airport.”
It was at that point during the interview that Del Mastro proceeded to call San Benito “backwards in how they want to proceed with new business coming into the area;” stated that he and his companies’ representatives were “done with the scrutiny with the city of San Benito” and named City Manager Manuel Lara and City Attorney Ricardo Morado in relation to how “totally upset” they are with the city.
Those remarks raised concern with elected officials and administrators, some of whom took issue with Del Mastro’s description of the city.
“The choice of words is very poor on Peter’s part,” Torres said.
Lara said the only direct contact he’s had with Del Mastro was an initial meeting in which the number of power plants Telemark has built and which one was closest to San Benito were requested. The city manager said that Del Mastro “couldn’t name me one.”
For more on this developing story, pick up a copy of the Sept. 22 edition of the San Benito News, or subscribe to our E-Edition by clicking here.