Political figures have long used their families to route power and benefits for their own self-enrichment. In my new book, “Profiles in Corruption: Abuse of Power by America’s Progressive Elite,” one particular politician — Joe Biden — emerges as the king of the sweetheart deal, with no less than five family members benefiting from his largesse, favorable access and powerful position for commercial gain. In Biden’s case, these deals include foreign partners and, in some cases, even US taxpayer dollars.
The Biden family’s apparent self-enrichment involves five family members: Joe’s son Hunter, son-in-law Howard, brothers James and Frank, and sister Valerie.
When this subject came up in 2019, Biden declared, “I never talked with my son or my brother or anyone else — even distant family — about their business interests. Period.”
As we will see, this is far from the case …
Joe Biden’s younger brother, James, has been an integral part of the family political machine from the earliest days when he served as finance chair of Joe’s 1972 Senate campaign, and the two have remained quite close. After Joe joined the US Senate, he would bring his brother James along on congressional delegation trips to places like Ireland, Rome and Africa.
When Joe became vice president, James was a welcomed guest at the White House, securing invitations to such important functions as a state dinner in 2011 and the visit of Pope Francis in 2015. Sometimes, James’ White House visits dovetailed with his overseas business dealings, and his commercial opportunities flourished during his brother’s tenure as vice president.
Consider the case of HillStone International, a subsidiary of the huge construction management firm Hill International. The president of HillStone International was Kevin Justice, who grew up in Delaware and was a longtime Biden family friend. On Nov. 4, 2010, according to White House visitors’ logs, Justice visited the White House and met with Biden adviser Michele Smith in the Office of the Vice President.
Less than three weeks later, HillStone announced that James Biden would be joining the firm as an executive vice president. James appeared to have little or no background in housing construction, but that did not seem to matter to HillStone. His bio on the company’s website noted his “40 years of experience dealing with principals in business, political, legal and financial circles across the nation and internationally…”
James Biden was joining HillStone just as the firm was starting negotiations to win a massive contract in war-torn Iraq. Six months later, the firm announced a contract to build 100,000 homes. It was part of a $35 billion, 500,000-unit project deal won by TRAC Development, a South Korean company. HillStone also received a $22 million US federal government contract to manage a construction project for the State Department.
David Richter, son of the parent company’s founder, was not shy in explaining HillStone’s success in securing government contracts. It really helps, he told investors at a private meeting, to have “the brother of the vice president as a partner,” according to someone who was there.
The Iraq project was massive, perhaps the single most lucrative project for the firm ever. In 2012, Charlie Gasparino of Fox Business reported that HillStone officials expected the project to “generate $1.5 billion in revenues over the next three years.” That amounted to more than three times the revenue the company produced in 2011.
A group of minority partners, including James Biden, stood to split about $735 million. “There’s plenty of money for everyone if this project goes through,” said one company official.
The deal was all set, but HillStone made a crucial error. In 2013, the firm was forced to back out of the contract because of a series of problems, including a lack of experience by Hill and TRAC Development, its South Korean associate firm. But HillStone continued doing significant contract work in the embattled country, including a six-year contract with the US Army Corps of Engineers.
James Biden remained with Hill International, which accumulated contracts from the federal government for dozens of projects, including projects in the United States, Puerto Rico, Mozambique and elsewhere.
With the election of his father as vice president, Hunter Biden launched businesses fused to his father’s power that led him to lucrative deals with a rogue’s gallery of governments and oligarchs around the world. Sometimes he would hitch a prominent ride with his father aboard Air Force Two to visit a country where he was courting business. Other times, the deals would be done more discreetly. Always they involved foreign entities that appeared to be seeking something from his father.
There was, for example, Hunter’s involvement with an entity called Burnham Financial Group, where his business partner Devon Archer — who’d been at Yale with Hunter — sat on the board of directors. Burnham became the vehicle for a number of murky deals abroad, involving connected oligarchs in Kazakhstan and state-owned businesses in China.
But one of the most troubling Burnham ventures was here in the United States, in which Burnham became the center of a federal investigation involving a $60 million fraud scheme against one of the poorest Indian tribes in America, the Oglala Sioux.
Devon Archer was arrested in New York in May 2016 and charged with “orchestrating a scheme to defraud investors and a Native American tribal entity of tens of millions of dollars.” Other victims of the fraud included several public and union pension plans. Although Hunter Biden was not charged in the case, his fingerprints were all over Burnham. The “legitimacy” that his name and political status as the vice president’s son lent to the plan was brought up repeatedly in the trial.
The scheme was explicitly designed to target pension funds that had “socially responsible investing” clauses, including pension funds of labor union organizations that had publicly supported Joe Biden’s political campaigns in the past. Indeed, eight of the 11 pension funds that lost their money were either government employee or labor union pension funds. Joe Biden has “a long-standing alliance with labor.” He closely identifies with organized labor. “I make no apologies,” he has said. “I am a union man, period.” And many public unions have endorsed him over the years.
Transcripts from Archer’s trial offer a clearer picture of Hunter Biden’s role at Burnham Asset Management, in particular, the fact that the firm relied on his father’s name and political status as a means of both recruiting pension money into the scheme and alleviating investors’ concerns.
Tim Anderson, a lawyer who did legal work on the issuance of the tribal bonds, recounts seeing Hunter while visiting the Burnham office in New York City to meet with Bevan Cooney, who was later convicted in the case.
The political ties that Biden and Archer had were considered key to the Burnham brand. As stated in an August 2014 email, Jason Galanis, who was convicted in the bond scheme, agreed with an unidentified associate who also thought the company had “value beyond capital” because of their political connections.
In the closing arguments at the trial, one of Archer’s defense attorneys, Matthew Schwartz, explained to the jury that it was impossible to talk about the bond scheme without mentioning Hunter Biden’s name. This “was perfectly sensible,” according to Schwartz, “because Hunter Biden was part of the Burnham team.”
It would be a dream for any new company to announce their launch in the Oval Office at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
StartUp Health is an investment consultancy based out of New York City, and in June 2011, the company barely had a website. The firm was the brainchild of three siblings from Philadelphia. Steven Krein is CEO and co-founder, while his brother, Dr. Howard Krein, serves as chief medical officer. Sister Bari serves as the firm’s chief strategy officer. A friend named Unity Stoakes is a co-founder and serves as president.
StartUp Health was barely up and running when, in June 2011, two of the company’s executives were ushered into the Oval Office of the White House. They met with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.
The following day, the new company would be featured at a large health care tech conference being run by the US Department of Health and Human Services, and StartUp Health executives became regular visitors to the White House, attending events in 2011, 2014 and 2015.
How did StartUp Health gain access to the highest levels of power in Washington? There was nothing particularly unique about the company, but for this:
The chief medical officer of StartUp Health, Howard Krein, is married to Joe Biden’s youngest daughter, Ashley.
“I happened to be talking to my father-in-law that day and I mentioned Steve and Unity were down there [in Washington, DC],” recalled Howard Krein. “He knew about StartUp Health and was a big fan of it. He asked for Steve’s number and said, ‘I have to get them up here to talk with Barack.’ The Secret Service came and got Steve and Unity and brought them to the Oval Office.”
StartUp Health offers to provide new companies technical and relationship advice in exchange for a stake in the business. Demonstrating and highlighting the fact that you can score a meeting with the president of the United States certainly helps prove a strategic company asset: high-level contacts.
Vice President Joe Biden continued to help Krein promote his company at several appearances through his last months in the White House, including one in January 2017, where he made a surprise showing at the StartUp Health Festival in San Francisco. The corporate event, open only to StartUp Health members, enabled the 250 people in attendance to chat in a closed session with the vice president.
In late March 2009, Vice President Joe Biden landed in Costa Rica aboard Air Force Two, and went to the Costa Rican presidential palace for a one-on-one with President Oscar Arias. The Biden visit had symbolic significance. The last time a high-ranking American official had visited the country was back in 1997, when Bill Clinton had come.
Joe Biden’s trip to Costa Rica came at a fortuitous time for his brother Frank, who was busy working deals in the country. Just months after Vice President Biden’s visit, in August, Costa Rica News announced a new multilateral partnership “to reform Real Estate in Latin America” among Frank Biden, a developer named Craig Williamson, and the Guanacaste Country Club, a newly planned resort. The partnership, which appears to be ongoing, was wrapped in a beautiful package as a “call on resources available to the companies and individuals to reform the social, economic and environmental practices of real estate developers across the world by example.”
In real terms, Frank’s dream was to build in the jungles of Costa Rica thousands of homes, a world-class golf course, casinos, and an anti-aging center. The Costa Rican government was eager to cooperate with the vice president’s brother.
As it happened, Joe Biden had been asked by President Obama to act as the administration’s point man in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Frank’s vision for a country club in Costa Rica received support from the highest levels of the Costa Rican government — despite his lack of experience in building such developments. He met with the Costa Rican ministers of education and energy and environment, as well as the president of the country.
On Oct. 4, 2016, the Costa Rican Ministry of Public Education signed a letter of intent with Frank’s company, Sun Fund Americas. The project involved allowing a company called GoSolar to operate solar power facilities in Costa Rica. The previous year, the Obama-Biden administration’s OPIC had authorized a $6.5 million taxpayer-backed loan for the project.
In June 2014, Vice President Biden announced the launch of the Caribbean Energy Security Initiative (CESI). The program called for increasing access to financing for Caribbean energy projects that he strongly supported. American taxpayer dollars were dedicated to facilitating deals that matched US government financing with local energy projects in Caribbean countries, including Jamaica. In January 2015, USAID announced that it would be spending $10 million to boost renewable energy projects in Jamaica over the next five years.
After Joe Biden brought together leaders for CESI, brother Frank’s firm Sun Fund Americas announced that it was “engaged in projects and is in negotiations with governments of other countries in the [Caribbean] region for both its Solar and Waste to Energy development services.” As if to push the idea along, the Obama administration’s OPIC provided a $47.5 million loan to support the construction of a 20-megawatt solar facility in Clarendon, Jamaica.
Frank Biden’s Sun Fund Americas later announced that it had signed a power purchase agreement to build a 20-megawatt solar facility in Jamaica.
Valerie Biden Owens
During his years in the Senate, Biden’s family benefited financially in other ways as he leveraged political power. Joe’s sister Valerie ran all of his Senate campaigns, as well as his presidential runs in 1988 and 2008.
But she was also a senior partner in a political messaging firm named Joe Slade White & Company; the only two executives listed at the firm were Joe Slade White and Valerie.
The firm received large fees from the Biden campaigns that Valerie was running. Two and a half million dollars in consulting fees flowed to her firm from Citizens for Biden and Biden For President Inc. during the 2008 presidential bid alone.
Joe Slade White & Company worked for Biden campaigns over 18 years