Government officials are investigating a mysterious company that has bought around 55,000 acres of dry farmland around a USAF base in California.
Travis Air Force base, northeast of San Francisco, houses large transport aircraft used for refueling smaller planes and sending aid and munitions around the world.
Starting in 2018, a company called Flannery Associates LLC has spent around $800million buying swathes of land around the base, leaving local, state and federal officials flummoxed as to who they are and what they want with it.
An attorney representing Flannery told The Wall Street Journal the company is controlled by US citizens and that 97 percent of its capital comes from American investors – with the remaining investments coming from British and Irish citizens.
State officials are investigating a mysterious company that has bought around 55,000 acres of dry farmland around an Air Force base in California, northeast of San Francisco
Travis Air Force base (pictured) houses large transport aircraft used for refueling smaller planes and sending aid and munitions abroad
In a letter to Solano County, the majority of which is owned by Flannery, the company is described itself as being ‘owned by a group of families looking to diversify their portfolio from equities into real assets, including agricultural land in the western United States,’ according to county newspaper the Daily Republic.
But after eight months of investigation, the Air Force’s ‘Foreign Investment Risk Review Office’ has failed to identify any one individual behind the Flannery, according to the Journal.
Meanwhile, the US Agriculture Department has made its own inquiries, also to no avail.
‘Nobody can figure out who they are,’ Ronald Kott, mayor of nearby Rio Vista, which is now largely surrounded by Flannery land, told The Journal. ‘Whatever they’re doing – this looks like a very long-term play.’
Over the years that Flannery, registered in Delaware, has been buying up land, it has given a variety of accounts and indications as to what it wants to do with it.
An attorney for Flannery, Richard Melnyk, said in an email to the county in 2019 that it was considering working with local farmers to farm ‘new types of crops or orchards,’ according to The Journal.
Mitch Mashburn, who works for the county, cast doubt on the viability of using the land for agricultural purposes.
An attorney for the mysterious Flannery Associated, registered in Delaware, said investors were 97 percent American, though those claims have not been verified
Many of the aircraft housed at the Travis Air Force base are large military transport aircraft such as C-5s and C-17s. Pictured is a Sgt. looking over the open aircraft ramp of a 62nd Airlift Wing C-17
‘The majority of the land they’re purchasing is dry farmland,’ he told the newspaper. ‘I don’t see where that land can turn a profit to make it worth almost a billion dollars in investment.’
In a separate email also seen by the Journal, Melnyk said Flannery was considering leasing ‘a substantial portion’ of its land to olive growers, including some by the base.
According to online business records, an individual called Thomas Mather was listed as once being a director or officer for the company, though there is almost no other publicly available information on him.
He is also listed as the manager of another Delaware-registered company called Diversified Land LLC, with the same California address in Folsom.
And it’s not just local officials that are confused.
‘We don’t know who Flannery is, and their extensive purchases do not make sense to anybody in the area,’ Democratic Representative John Garamendi, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee’s readiness panel, told the Wall Street Journal.
‘The fact that they’re buying land purposefully right up to the fence at Travis raises significant questions.’
The mystery around Flannery is reminiscent of the much smaller purchase last year of 300 acres of farmland in North Dakota just minutes from another Air Force base.
The land the Fufeng Group purchased is 20 minutes, approximately 16 miles, from the Grand Forks Air Force Base
The mystery around Travis is reminiscent of the much smaller purchase last year of 300 acres of farmland in North Dakota by a Chinese company
The China-based food producer, Fufeng Group, planned to build a corn-milling plant on its new land in Grand Forks, just 20 minutes from the Grand Forks Air Force Base, where some of the nation’s most sensitive drone technology is housed.
The purchase raised suspicions from military officers, national security experts and lawmakers alike.
A 2019 report from the US Department of Agriculture showed China owned at least 192,000 acres of US agricultural land worth over $1.9billion.
Though Canada, for example, owns far more US agricultural land, a 2018 USDA report showed China’s agricultural holdings in the US and other counties had increased tenfold since 2009.