Who is Flannery, the secret owner of $1B in land near a US airbase?

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The federal government is investigating Flannery Associates, an entity that has scooped up more than 80 square miles of land near Travis Air Force Base in California without disclosing who owns it.

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More than 80 square miles of land near a California military airbase — including tracts running right up to the fence on all sides — are now in the possession of a single corporation.

And the U.S. government has no idea who owns it.

The Air Force is looking into the identities of the people behind Flannery Associates in an effort to confirm the group is not a front for foreign interests, according to a report Friday in The Wall Street Journal.

An attorney for Flannery Associates denied that the purchases had anything to do with the land’s proximity to the airbase. The attorney claimed the company is controlled by U.S. citizens, but declined to name them. The attorney added that 97 percent of its invested capital comes from U.S. sources, with the rest coming from Irish and U.K. investors.

The corporation “is owned by a group of families looking to diversify their portfolio from equities into real assets, including agricultural land in the western United States,” the group previously told Solano County, according to the Journal.

But the inability to confirm any of these claims has raised concerns among government officials, who have launched an eight-month investigation into the firm’s origins that has yet to turn up any hard evidence of who’s behind the group, or why they bought the land.

Flannery Associates was incorporated under Delaware law, which does not require ownership to report their identities.

And if the people behind the firm are merely intending to develop the land, which is primarily zoned for agricultural use, they have yet to reach out to local officials regarding their plans, county supervisor Mitch Mashburn told the paper.

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

In court filings, the company disclosed it had spent more than $800 million on the acquisitions and said some of the prices it paid were “multiples of fair market value.”

The newspaper reports that Flannery Associates has given various explanations, some vague, for its interest in the properties. Representing the firm, attorney Richard Melnyk wrote in a 2019 email to a county official that Flannery intended to explore “new types of crops or orchards” while working with local farmers. The company was not interested in anything related to cannabis production, Melnyk said at the time.

The unknown nature of the purchases may have raised alarms within in the government, but an attorney who used to run the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States points out that a lot of real estate these days is done through similar LLCs.

“While I can see [the committee] being interested in who owns real estate near a military base, the fact that a property’s ownership is opaque does not mean anything nefarious is going on,” Rick Sofield of Vinson & Elkins told the Journal.

Email Daniel Houston

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