Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
Under the cloud of the impeachment investigation on an early October day, President Donald J. Trump stood outside the White House before a group of reporters and did what he’s prone to do. He doubled down.
Not only should the new Ukrainian president order a major investigation into his political rival, he said, so should China.
“China should start an investigation into the Bidens because what happened in China is just about as bad as Ukraine,” he said, pushing a narrative that, while vice president, Joe Biden had used his influence for the benefit of his son Hunter, including business dealings in China and Ukraine.
While U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies have discounted those claims, the President and his Republican allies continue to cast shade over the abuse of power and obstruction of Congress allegations Trump now faces under the articles of impeachment.
So what if China did launch an investigation into the Bidens’ dealings in that country? What would they find?
Well, one of the pins on the string board could be placed in Santa Fe.
The connecting thread, perhaps thin, runs through a hugely successful City Different company once known as the BGK Group and later as Rosemont Realty and which has now moved its headquarters to Los Angeles under the name Gemini Rosemont – following purchase of a majority stake in the company by a Chinese firm.
The backstory contains elements of wealth, crime and intrigue, and a cast of characters worthy of a novel by sometimes Santa Fean Stuart Woods.
‘The Boy Wonder’
The story starts with Eddie Gilbert, the Santa Fe real estate magnate who died in 2015, four days short of his 93rd birthday.
Gilbert’s life was recorded by Richard Wittingham’s 2003 biography “Boy Wonder of Wall Street” and touched on his friendships with American icons, such as Beat Generation writer Jack Kerouac and playwright Arthur Miller.
It also told of Gilbert’s troubles with the law in the 1960s and 1970s, including two convictions for white-collar crimes involving stocks and public companies.
He once fled the country to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to avoid prosecution for taking $2 million from a company’s treasury. He remained on the lam for six months before returning to the U.S. and pleading guilty on the advice of his attorney. The U.S. Court of Appeals later exonerated him of that charge.
And in 2010, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson granted him clemency. Though not a formal pardon, since the governor had no influence over federal crimes, clemency restored his rights under state law. By then, Gilbert was nearing the end of a life that had blossomed anew.
In 1989, at the urging of his wife Peaches, the couple moved to Santa Fe, where Gilbert became better known for his generosity than for his past transgressions. He and his wife were selected as Philanthropists of the Year in 2011 by the Journal North and the St. Vincent Hospital Foundation. The couple were also strong supporters of the Santa Fe Humane Society and Assistance Dogs of the West, as well as the Santa Fe Symphony.
They often contributed anonymously to people needing help getting up after being knocked down, according to a 2011 Journal profile of the couple. “I know about struggling. I know about hard times,” Gilbert said.
In addition to rebuilding his reputation, Gilbert built a real estate business empire, starting with the purchase of a Taco Bell in Española. He also bought an RV park in Santa Fe and a self-storage facility in Albuquerque. Soon thereafter, in 1991, he and others formed the BGK Group, which would grow into one of the largest real estate companies in the country. With a focus on multi-tenant commercial office buildings, BGK exceeded more than $3 billion in real estate transactions and owned properties in 28 states by 2010.
That’s when a new player entered the picture.
‘Charismatic and confident’
Daniel Burrell, who declined to be interviewed for this story, is described as “charismatic,” “confident” and the “GQ” type in various media reports.
In a lengthy profile published in the Montana Standard last year, Burrell answered a reporter’s questions after flying into Butte on a private jet and before dashing down a mountain on a pair of skis.
“I’m programmed on running 1,000 miles an hour,” he’s quoted as saying in the article centered around his venture into mining cryptocurrency.
Burrell also tried mineral mining, a foray that helped him establish a stake in New Mexico.
With the backing of $750,000 in Local Economic Development Act money from the state, Burrell invested in an endeavor to tap a deposit of industrial-quality garnet in the mountains near Alamogordo. An Associated Press story from 2017 says the mine was expected to bring $160 million in economic development, but suffered a setback due to issues related to garnet prices. The state funding has been returned.
But Burrell has been a player since coming to New Mexico a decade ago.
He and his wife Katherine founded the New Mexico Leadership Institute, located on Paseo de Peralta in Santa Fe, a collaboration with the University of New Mexico and New Mexico State University that works to develop “the next generation of young leaders in New Mexico,” according to its website.
With private funding, he also built the $85 million Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces as part of a unique public-private partnership. He was also behind a similar facility built in Idaho.
Burrell, an Albany, New York, native, had worked as an intern in the Clinton White House during his senior year at Georgetown University, where he got a degree in government. He went on to work on presidential campaigns for Democrats Al Gore in 2000, and John Kerry in 2003 and 2004, describing Kerry as “an incredible mentor.”
Before he was 30, Burrell had studied at the London School of Economics, started his own investment company and earned a law degree from Yale.
That Ivy League school also educated Chris Heinz, heir to the H.J. Heinz ketchup fortune and Sen. Kerry’s stepson, and Devon Archer, an advisor on Kerry’s 2004 campaign and a trustee of the Heinz Family Office.
Not long after Burrell graduated from Yale in 2008, he joined Heinz and Archer at Rosemont Realty, named for a Heinz family property, a move that starts the road toward a Santa Fe-Biden connection.
A year later, Heinz and Archer joined forces with another Yalie, Hunter Biden, son of the vice president of the United States. Biden and Archer created Rosemont Seneca Partners, a sister company to Rosemont Realty.
Purchase of BGK
Rosemont Realty made waves in 2010 by purchasing BGK, Santa Fe icon Eddie Gilbert’s company which, by then, owned 135 commercial buildings in 22 states. Burrell was appointed CEO.
Rosemont opened nine regional offices in major cities across the country, but kept the corporate headquarters in Santa Fe at University Plaza, a 20,600-square-foot building on Garfield Street in downtown Santa Fe. Of the company’s roughly 200 employees at the time, about half were in Santa Fe and Albuquerque.
Former Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales used to work for Rosemont Realty, serving as vice president for corporate responsibility and sustainability. In a phone interview last week, he said he was hired by Burrell in 2012.
Gonzales says he likely first met Burrell through politics. “I’m sure it was along the lines within the Democratic Party because I was chair (of the state party) at the time,” Gonzales said.
For the first four years of Rosemont Realty’s existence, Hunter Biden served on the company’s advisory board, drawing the line that connected him to Santa Fe. Gonzales said that in the year or so that his employment at Rosemont Realty overlapped with Biden’s tenure on the board, he never met him.
“I wasn’t at all in any type of space where I had interactions with him,” he said. “I never worked, either internally or externally, with him.”
Biden left the Rosemont Realty advisory board in 2014, the same year he was appointed to the board of the Ukraine energy company Burisma Holdings, a focus of the current political controversy over his business connections.
According to a book by Peter Schweizer, “Secret Empires: How the American Political Class Hides Corruption and Enriches Family and Friends,” published last spring, and which has helped shape the narrative embraced by President Trump and his supporters, Rosemont Seneca Partners began meeting with Chinese officials soon after it was formed.
And in 2013, Hunter Biden accompanied his father on Air Force Two on a trip to China. While there, Hunter Biden, Archer and executives with the Thornton Group, headed by James Bulger, the namesake of his uncle, James “Whitey” Bulger, the notorious Boston mob boss, discussed business with Chinese officials.
While the vice president met with the Chinese president, his son and his associates met with Chinese executives “to explore the possibility of commercial cooperation and opportunity,” according to the book.
Within two weeks of that trip, the Bank of China partnered with Rosemont Seneca Partners on a $1.5 billion equity deal, creating a first-of-its-kind investment fund called Bohai Harvest RST.
“In short, the Chinese government funded a business that it co-owned along with the son of a sitting vice president,” Schweizer wrote.
The same year the deal was done, Burrell resigned as CEO of Rosemont Realty in Santa Fe. But Burrell stayed connected to the company as a member of its board of advisors.
Chinese firm buys most of Rosemont
In 2015, the Chinese company Gemini Investments, a holding company for Sino-Ocean Land, one of the largest real estate companies in Asia, purchased a 75% interest in Rosemont Realty in a deal brokered by Burrell.
The transaction included a $3 billion commitment from Gemini, and the Santa Fe-headquartered company became Gemini Rosemont Realty.
Now, the huge Chinese investment in a company with a Hunter Biden connection, at least in the past, is part of the sequence of events cited by his critics.
A representative of Gemini Rosemont provided this statement to the Journal last week: “Hunter Biden had a brief relationship with Rosemont Realty and was on its advisory board from 2010 to 2014. Gemini Rosemont was formed after that relationship with Hunter Biden ended and Gemini Rosemont has never had a relationship with Hunter Biden. We do not know about his affiliations with other companies, other than what we read in the news.”
Gemini Rosemont kept its headquarters in Santa Fe until recently. In April, Gemini Rosemont Commercial Real Estate announced it was relocating its headquarters to Los Angeles.
According to the company, Gemini Rosemont Commercial Real Estate’s Santa Fe office is currently staffed by 35 employees, “providing middle and back office support for all aspects of the company.”
While dealing mostly with large commercial real estate properties, the Gemini Rosemont website indicates it still owns a few properties in Santa Fe, including the Design Center at Galisteo and Montezuma downtown, and University Plaza, the name of the 330 Garfield St. property.
It also owns The Gold Building in downtown Albuquerque, as well as the Citadel office complex on Indian School, and Seagull Office Plaza. Its largest property in New Mexico is the 148,000-square-foot Broadmoor Mall in Hobbs.