Douglas Manchester and Thomas Barrack (insets: Annie Leibovitz and Michael Jackson)
They appeared to be some of the darkest days of Doug Manchester’s life back in the summer of 2014, as the San Diego developer and Republican kingpin struggled to find enough cash to finance a downtown convention hotel he wanted to build with his son in Austin, Texas.
Desperate for funds, Manchester had cast his net all the way to China in an attempt to use the federal government’s controversial EB-5 visa-selling program, permitting super-rich foreigners to buy so-called Green Cards allowing permanent U.S. residency in exchange for coming up with $500,000 for investments.
Manchester's planned Austin hotel
"Recently, EB-5 financing has heavily gone into American hotels, which have not been the favorites of domestic financial institutions," noted Don Bauder in a June 28, 2013, item.
"China is a major source of EB-5 capital."
Questions about the program became so intense that conservative Republican senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa launched an investigation into the visa-selling (which financed San Diego’s FBI headquarters), targeting officials of the Obama administration’s Department of Homeland Security.
Despite the controversy, Manchester's son Douglas joined a group of Texans in a trip to Beijing in search of funding for the 1000-room-plus, $350 million Fairmont Austin Hotel proposed by Manchester Texas Financial Group.
Nothing in the way of funding had materialized by May 2014, when the Union-Tribune, then owned by Manchester and used to promote his personal and political affinities, ran a glowing piece about the project's prospects.
"Construction on the 1,054-room Fairmont Austin, which will be linked to the Austin center via a sky bridge, is expected to get under way by September, said Manchester," per the piece.
Finally, after years of uncertainty, the U-T announced in October 2014 that funding had been found and the hotel would soon break ground.
With Manchester notably loathe to put his own money on the line, the lender of last resort emerged as Thomas J. Barrack's Colony Capital of Santa Monica, noted for its high-interest re-financings of both distressed projects and celebrities, including troubled pop star Michael Jackson and photographer Annie Leibovitz.
"Having had the privilege of working with both 'Papa' Doug Manchester and the Manchester Group for over a decade, we see this as a continuation of a great and valued relationship," Barrack was quoted by the U-T as saying. The story provided no details about the men's previous deals together.
"As a rule, Barrack is drawn to distressed situations," noted a New York Magazine profile in October 2010.
"One of the adages in a list of 'rules for success' that he sometimes distributes to employees is 'befriend the bewildered.' And when you start applying the thought process of a vulture investor to pop culture, suddenly the world can seem dizzy with opportunity."
The bizarre ending of Jackson's life also turned out to be propitious for Barrack.
“What’s amazing,” Barrack told New York, “is he attained in death what he could never attain in life.”
Documents recorded in Austin in December 2014 show that limited liability corporations controlled by Manchester borrowed $295 million from a Colony-related firm to do the Texas hotel deal. No other details regarding the arrangement have since come to light.
During this year’s presidential campaign, Barrack and Manchester were both major donors and fundraisers for Trump.
"Tom Barrack and I just decided we would support the campaign to the maximum we can," Manchester told Bloomberg this past July.
In June, Barrack raised $32 million for his then–newly formed pro-Trump super PAC, Rebuilding America Now, according to reports in Mother Jones and elsewhere.
"Barrack is a longtime friend of Donald Trump — they got to know each other when Barrack negotiated Trump's purchase of New York's Plaza Hotel in 1988," per the publication.
He has now turned up on the short list of candidates for secretary of the Treasury in the Trump administration.
A 1969 graduate of the University of Southern California — where a building was renamed Barrack Hall after a $15 million donation from the billionaire in 2014 — Barrack got a J.D. from the University of San Diego in 1972.