MONTPELIER — The Shumlin administration has released the first batch of emails sent and received by five former staffers that it sought to destroy last month, a request that drew heavy criticism because it came just days before state and federal fraud charges against two Northeast Kingdom developers were revealed.
The first batch of emails — about 5,500 — that were slated for deletion was released to the Vermont Press Bureau Friday as part of a public records request. The administration agreed to release the emails after they were reviewed to redact protected and privileged information.
Scott Coriell, spokesman for Gov. Peter Shumlin, said all members of the governor’s staff, excluding the governor, have spent the past week completing the request, which required about 200 staff hours. There are tens of thousands of emails that are subject to the records request, according to Coriell, and the administration has no precise timeline for when the remaining records will be released.
“It is meant to serve as a representative sample of the type of correspondence at issue in the request to delete emails of former staff who left the Governor’s Office over three years ago,” Coriell wrote in a cover letter with the emails. “None of the withheld information relates to EB-5. The request to delete the accounts at issue in this production was in no way related to any EB-5 litigation.”
Top administration officials said the request it made to the Department of Information and Innovation to delete the emails was part of an ongoing project to archive records and not related to the civil fraud charges against Ariel Quiros and Bill Stenger that were revealed on April 14.
Quiros and Stenger are accused by both the federal Securities and Exchange Commission and the state of misusing about $200 million of the $350 million they raised from foreign investors in $500,000 increments for development projects at Jay Peak, Q Burke Mountain and in the town of Newport. Quiros is also accused of using $50 million of investor money for his own personal gain.
One of the former staffers in question, Alexandra MacLean, left the governor’s office for a job at Jay Peak, where many of the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program development projects headed by Stenger and Quiros took place. The other former employees include Bill Lofy, who served as Shumlin’s chief of staff, Bianca Slota, a former spokeswoman, Ariel Weingroff, a former special assistant and Elizabeth Bankowski, who led Shumlin’s transition team after he won the governorship in 2010.
The governor’s legal counsel, Sarah London, was working under an initial November 2015 guidance memo from Secretary of State Jim Condos when it asked DII on April 1 to delete the emails of the former staff members that are more than three years old and have no archival value. An updated guidance memo from Condos was issued on March 30, and stated that routine correspondence that does not involve the governor only needs to be kept until it is obsolete.
Darren Springer, Shumlin’s chief of staff, said London was trying to follow the guidance from Condos when she asked DII to delete the emails. But when DII checked with Condos’ office, it objected to the administration’s deletion request.
Top administration officials held a briefing for reporters after the delete order was revealed to squash the notion that the request to delete the emails was an attempt to destroy EB-5 related correspondence. Any emails dealing with the EB-5 projects in question were preserved and segregated from the deletion request because of a “litigation hold” put in place by Attorney General Bill Sorrell last October as his office prepared a case against Quiros and Stenger, the officials said.
The administration asked Sorrell to release the former staffers’ emails related to the EB-5 projects that had been segregated, but Sorrell declined to do so, saying it could harm the state’s case. Sorrell said those emails could be released after the civil case against Quiros and Stenger is resolved, or if a judge orders them to be released.
The emails released Friday can be viewed here, or below.
Ariel Wengroff emails:
Elizabeth Bankowski emails:
Alexandra MacLean emails:
Bianca Slota emails: