(NewsNation) — While questions remain about a mystery company buying 52,000 acres of land near an Air Force base, a congressman says farmers in the area are being targeted in a lawsuit from the group.
Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., has been speaking out over the past five years about the $800 million in land acquisitions by Flannery Associates near Travis Air Force Base. Garamendi says the purchases just don’t add up.
In an interview with NewsNation, Garamendi said he’s been in contact with the families of farmers who handed over their land to Flannery saying they didn’t want to sell in the first place. Since no California laws require them to sell, the land was bargained for by both parties at a much higher price. But now, Flannery is suing those families for $510 million, accusing them of conspiring together to inflate the value of the land.
“It’s a suit designed to force the farmers to lawyer up, spend tens of thousands of dollars on lawyering and maybe at the end of the day, bankrupt themselves,” Garamendi said. “In fact, that has happened to at least one family that I know of and I’ve heard rumors that another family simply said we can’t afford the lawyers.”
NewsNation reviewed a copy of the lawsuit. Attorneys for Flannery say they believe “this is a simple case about a group of wealthy landowners who saw an opportunity to conspire, collude, price fix and illegally overcharge Flannery.”
But, Garamendi says there was no viable, economic reason to justify spending several times more than what the land is worth in the first place.
The suit comes as companies with ties to China have been ramping up efforts to buy American farmland in recent years.
Public records show “Flannery Associates” has invested more than $800 million on more than 50,000 acres of land surrounding the Travis Air Force Base since 2018.
Legal representation for Flannery says the group is controlled by U.S. citizens, with 97% of its capital coming from U.S.-based investors. But after eight months of investigation, federal officials can’t confirm or deny this to be true and have not been able to determine exactly who is backing the company.
The Air Force’s Foreign Investment Risk Review office is currently investigating Flannery Associates. Garamendi says there are valid concerns that Flannery’s land acquisitions could be tied to foreign enemies.
“The fact they chose to buy all three sides of the Travis Air Force Base even raises immediate questions about national security,” Garamendi said. “So, is this Chinese money? We don’t know, but we do know that the Chinese money was being used in North Dakota and we have a very deep suspicion, given the amount of money, given the lack of attention to values, that they simply want to acquire all of this land.”
NewsNation investigated the now thwarted deal with a Chinese-owned company in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Last year, 300 acres of farmland were purchased near the Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota by Chinese-owned Fufeng – a deal that raised red flags about potential spying.
After pushback from the community, the city council ultimately voted to end the project, citing national security risks.
Garamendi says local residents near Travis Air Force Base are riled up just like the residents in Grand Forks due to how critical the area is for the U.S. military.
“Travis Air Force Base is absolutely essential. It is the gateway to the Pacific,” Garamendi said, later adding: “A good deal of the munitions that are going to Ukraine also passed through Travis Air Force Base.”
China has been buying up American farmland for years. Nearly 384,000 acres of agricultural land in the U.S. is controlled by China, and the rate at which they are purchasing land is growing exponentially, the USDA reports.
Chinese ownership of American farmland has increased 55% in the past five years, with almost 75% of it located in the South and about 16% on the West Coast.