Mystery company sues former owners of farmland around Travis AFB

by WorldTribune Staff, August 2, 2023

As questions persist whether 50,000 acres of land purchased surrounding Travis Air Force Base in California is owned by a foreign power, the mysterious company that bought up the farm land near the base is suing the former owners, saying they conspired to inflate prices.

The company, Flannery Associates, has invested more than $800 million on land which surrounds three sides of Travis Air Force base, which is considered the “gateway to the Pacific.”

Democrat Rep. John Garamendi, whose district includes Travis Air Force Base, said he has a “deep suspicion” the land is being bought by a group linked to China and that the lawsuits are intended to bankrupt the farmers. Efforts to identify even a single individual in the company have failed.

Travis Air Force Base / Wikimedia Commons

Travis Air Force base, northeast of San Francisco, is a strategically significant base that houses large transport aircraft used for refueling smaller planes and sending aid and munitions around the world. “A good deal of the munitions that are going to Ukraine also passed through Travis Air Force Base,” Garamendi said.

Flannery Associates is suing local farming families for $510 million, accusing them of “acting in flagrant disregard of federal and state law” by conspiring to inflate the value of the land it sold them, reported on Aug. 1.

Flannery filed the lawsuit after reports cited local officials as saying the land couldn’t possibly turn a profit.

Related: Mystery company has bought $800 million of land on 3 sides of Travis AFB, July 23, 2023

“The majority of the land they’re purchasing is dry farmland,” County supervisor Mitch Mashburn said. “I don’t see where that land can turn a profit to make it worth almost a billion dollars in investment.”

Flannery, which has been buying up the land since 2018, has offered various explanations for the purchases, including “new types of crops or orchards,” renewable energy and related projects, and olive growing.

“Nobody can figure out who they are,” said Ronald Kott, mayor of Rio Vista, California, which is now largely surrounded by Flannery-owned land. “Whatever they’re doing — this looks like a very long-term play.”

An attorney representing Flannery said the group is controlled by U.S. citizens and that 97 percent of its capital comes from American investors — with the remaining investments coming from British and Irish citizens.

After eight months of investigating Flannery, however, the Air Force’s Foreign Investment Risk Review Office said it has yet to identify even one person that is part of the group.

“The fact they chose to buy all three sides of the Travis Air Force Base even raises immediate questions about national security,” Garamendi told NewsNation. “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.”

Garamendi told NewsNation he has spoken with the families who sold their land to Flannery. The families said they didn’t want to sell in the first place. He also said that there was nothing obligating Flannery to pay what it now claims is more than market value for the land.

The Flannery lawsuit is “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 told NewsNation. “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.”

A 2019 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture showed China owned at least 192,000 acres of U.S. agricultural land worth over $1.9 billion. A 2018 USDA report showed China’s agricultural holdings in the U.S. had increased tenfold since 2009.

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