Illinois Residents Sue to Keep Out EV Battery Company with CCP Ties

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Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Manteno Mayor Timothy Nugent were among officials who hailed a deal to bring the company into the town.

Residents of a village in Illinois have filed a lawsuit to keep out the American subsidiary of Gotion High-Tech, a battery company with ties to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that currently stands to gain from half a billion dollars in state incentives along with support from other units of government.

“Today, the people of Manteno have spoken. We do not want this plant in our town,” Amanda Piker, a local activist with Concerned Citizens of Manteno, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, told The Epoch Times.

At a press conference in September, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, and Manteno Mayor Timothy Nugent were among the officials who hailed a deal to bring Gotion to town to manufacture lithium electric vehicle batteries at the site of a former distribution center for Kmart.

The company was eligible for incentives valued at $536 million from the state. In addition, Kankakee County offered a 30-year property tax abatement. It could also be eligible for federal “green energy” credits.

But Manteno residents are concerned about everything from health and environmental risks to the use of taxpayer money and the possible presence of the CCP in their tight-knit rural community.

“We are inviting our enemies into our town,” Annette LaMore, a retired postal carrier and anti-Gotion activist, told The Epoch Times.

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The objections of local activists such as Ms. Piker and Ms. LaMore comes alongside questions from national lawmakers, including members of the House Select Committee on the CCP.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and other officials outlined some links between Gotion and the CCP in a September letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen asking for the company to receive more scrutiny from Treasury’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.

“Li Zhen, the company’s founder and chairman, is a member of the Anhui Provincial Federation of Industry and Commerce, which is part of the CCP’s United Front system and takes direction from the CCP. His son, Li Chen, who is also Guoxuan’s CEO, is a member of the Baohe District Chinese People’s Political Consultative Committee, which is an advisory body of the CCP,” the lawmakers wrote.

The Dec. 22 lawsuit, filed in the Circuit Court of Kankakee County, comes after anti-Gotion activists suffered a key defeat in a Village of Manteno board meeting on Dec. 4.

All but one member of the board voted to rezone the proposed factory site from light industrial to heavy industrial. But activists maintain that the change violates Manteno Code, which bars the use of “highly toxic materials” under both zoning classifications.

“They broke their own law,” local Gotion critic Bob Forsythe told The Epoch Times.

That vote came a few weeks after the change was advanced during a special meeting of the village’s Plan Commission, which is chaired by Francis “Smitty” Smith. The activists’ lawsuit alleges that the commission approved the plan “in a five-minute meeting without any discussion of the findings of fact in opposition submitted by… Concerned Citizens of Manteno.”
Mr. Smith, a major Democratic donor known for his role in developing a former mental hospital into the Illinois Diversatech Campus, is named in the complaint “in his official capacity as Chairman of the Manteno Plan Commission.” The Village of Manteno and Gotion, Inc. are also among the defendants.

The plaintiffs are seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. They want to prevent the rezoning and the operation of the proposed plant or to have the Village of Manteno reverse its zoning decision.

Although the case could take a while to move forward, it isn’t the only tool that may be available to Gotion’s opponents.

“We reserve our option to seek a preliminary injunction to immediately halt the plant,” said Robby Dube, a Minnesota attorney working with the plaintiffs in the suit alongside local counsel, in an interview with The Epoch Times.

Mr. Dube, of Eckland & Blando LLP, also played a role in keeping China’s Fufeng from developing a corn milling facility in Grand Forks, North Dakota. In addition, he’s working with citizens in Michigan, where Gotion is also trying to get a foothold. He sees the cases as part of a much larger and troubling trend.

“There’s a need for an awakening of people who have national security concerns or environmental concerns to address this and understand that there’s a very large battle going on and resources are needed,” Mr. Dube said.

The Village of Manteno’s administrator, Chris LaRocque, declined to comment on the case to The Epoch Times. Gotion did not respond to a request for comment.

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