Regional Public Journalism
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Washington Lt. Governor Touted Company At Center Of SEC Investigation

Erin Hennessey
The Potala Tower project in downtown Seattle is still mostly just a hole in the ground more than a year after Lt. Gov. Brad Owen told a group of Chinese investors the project was slated for completion in the summer of 2014.

Washington Lt. Governor Brad Owen traveled to China last year and touted a company that’s now at the center of a federal fraud investigation.

The Democrat’s trip was also paid for by that same company -- Path America.

Owen appeared at a Shanghai conference center in May of 2014 and gave a speech that encouraged overseas investors to do business in Washington state. He specifically mentioned a Path America high-rise project in downtown Seattle called Potala Tower. Now the lead developer on that project is accused of defrauding Chinese investors.

Owen said friends in Seattle vouched for the project.

“Of course it hurts when you’ve been asked to go over to talk to people about the great state of Washington, you try to get them to invest and then the people that are putting the conference together are ripping them off,” Owen said. “But how would we know that?”

In his Shanghai speech, Owen told the investor audience Potala Tower was slated for completion that summer. Owen said that’s the information he had at the time. In fact, the official groundbreaking for the project didn’t happen until later that summer and construction only recently began.

The SEC accuses the owner of Path America, Lobsang Dargey of spending some of the money he raised on a $2.5 million home and cash withdrawals at casinos. His assets have been frozen.

According to Owen’s 2015 financial affairs statement, Path America paid $5,986 for his trip to China. Owen said it’s his personal policy to seek private funding for overseas trade-related trips so that taxpayers don’t foot the bill.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."