It’s a bad time to be part of the Caffe Primo universe right now, as the local Italian-leaning cafe chain fights off closures and rumors galore. One thing that is known for sure: at least one investor behind several locations of the company is in pretty big trouble with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Yesterday came news that the local chain had abandoned plans to open at the base of a mixed-use building in Santa Monica, years after first putting up some signage to the contrary. Before that, the company had quietly stalled on a bid to bring something similar to a new mixed-use build across the street from Target in West Hollywood, all while opening (and subsequently closing) a different location near the Arclight in Hollywood — and another down in San Diego.
So where did all of Caffe Primo’s money go? Into the pockets of at least one Orange County lawyer, says the SEC. They accuse Newport Beach resident Emilio Francisco of using the federal EB-5 visa program to bilk hundreds of overseas investors, many of them Chinese, out of close to $10 million.
The program, which has also come under scrutiny in the Trump administration era as a loophole for enriching son-in-law Jared Kushner and others, aims to give permanent U.S. resident status to foreigners in exchange for sizable investments into American projects that create and maintain jobs domestically. Francisco, according to the SEC, was claiming just that, but using the cash on the side to buy boats and keep up a lavish lifestyle instead. Wrapped up in all those promised investments (including assisted-living facilities in three states) is Caffe Primo, except the money likely never went where it claimed it would.
So now Primo seems to be going through some rough times. The chain’s website is defunct, though their Sunset Strip and Downtown locations remain open at the moment. Not that Francisco or anyone else is pulling much money out of them at the moment: earlier this year, a judge began freezing assets in the case.