The Attorney General in the District of Columbia is investigating USA Pavilion 2020, a non-profit effort overseen by the State Department, to showcase American business, culture, and technology at the World’s Fair. That’s according to an individual familiar with the matter and other details of the investigation obtained by The Daily Beast.
Every two or three years, officials, businesspeople, and tourists from around the globe gather for the World’s Fair, where countries highlight new inventions, works of art, transportation designs, and more in pop-up exhibitions for public viewing. The U.S. has previously spent tens of millions of dollars to build its pavilions. The 2020 gathering was set to take place in Dubai in October but was postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Soon after the 2017 World’s Fair in Astana, Kazakhstan, a cohort of accounting, architecture, engineering and food services firms clinched bids and worked under a singular non-profit to work on the U.S. pavilion in Dubai. The team was set to highlight Virgin’s ultra high-speed Hyperloop transportation system—a train-like system that could, one day, allow a passenger to travel from Los Angeles to New York in under five hours.
But one of the three USA Pavilion teams, as The Daily Beast previously reported, fell apart. Rampant infighting and allegations of double-dealing and influence peddling forced the State Department to search for a new team to represent the U.S. at the expo. Multiple individuals involved in the effort who previously spoke to The Daily Beast said the group had failed to follow through on contractors’ invoices and that officials at State were aware of the internal feuding.
Now, the public advocacy division in the D.C. Attorney General’s office is investigating the 2020 pavilion effort under a statute—grounds for judicial dissolution or other equitable relief— that can lead to the termination of a non-profit if a court finds evidence of fraud. D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine filed a lawsuit against the National Rifle Association earlier this month under that same statute.
Racine’s office has issued subpoenas in recent weeks related to the U.S. pavilion efforts. But the D.C. Attorney General’s Office said it would “not confirm, deny, or comment on confidential enforcement activity.”
The U.S. effort to build a pavilion in Dubai has seen multiple leadership changes over the last several years. Three separate teams have attempted to raise money and piece together an American exhibit. Jim Core, the director of international expositions unit office at the State Department, and other State officials have overseen the expo efforts.
The State Department chose the latest cohort, led by Thinkwell Group, a global design and production firm, in March. That team solicited a massive investment—around $40 million—from the government of the UAE to supplement the cost of construction.
Fred Bush, who failed to clinch the ambassadorship to Luxembourg in 1990 because of allegations he engaged in influence peddling at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, was in charge of fundraising. He was also chairman of the pavilion board. Bush’s son is a Trump appointee at the State Department.
Alan Dunn, the former assistant secretary of commerce and member of Donald Trump’s transition team, helped start and provide legal counsel for the team. Dunn previously worked as the chief legal officer of IP3—a firm currently being investigated by a congressional committee for pushing the Trump administration to approve a deal to export nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia.
After the dismantling of that group of contractors, a second team moved in but faced similar challenges raising money for the U.S. pavilion, and contractors on the project later learned that they’d been pushed out, replaced by the Thinkwell team.
The very first team tapped by Foggy Bottom was headed by Greg Houston, a State Department contractor who works in public diplomacy. Houston left the pavilion team after reporting the mismanagement and financial problems to the State Department. Mark Giuliani, an architect in Virginia, handled design management, with other architects and advisers based in Colorado.
It’s unclear exactly what Racine is probing as it relates to the U.S. pavilion efforts in Dubai, but an individual familiar with the matter said it seems as though the office is zeroing in on this first team’s efforts.