Now Vermont, Too, Shows Why National EB-5 Reforms Are Needed

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ears ago when I began working to reform the national EB-5 program, the problems we saw seemed far removed from the many promising EB-5 development projects in Vermont. It is heartbreaking, and it is maddening, to see such problems here at home. It is now painfully clear to all Vermonters that the EB-5 Regional Center program is flawed. The program once promised to transform the Northeast Kingdom and other underserved communities through millions of dollars of investment at no cost to taxpayers. Yet it has become mired in fraud and abuse across the country, and unfortunately such allegations have now reached our state. Continue Reading →

VSEA prevails with the Vermont Labor Relations Board

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MONTPELIER — The Vermont Labor Relations Board ruled in a split decision Tuesday in favor of the Vermont State Employees Association in its contract dispute with the Shumlin administration. Both parties agreed to seek a two-year labor contract to succeed the current deal that is set to expire on June 30. The two sides had difficulty agreeing to terms, however, and reached in impasse. A deal was still elusive after mediation efforts, resulting in the appointment of a mutually agreed upon fact finder who held two hearings in January. Both sides submitted their last best offers to the Vermont Labor Relations Board last month and it was tasked with choosing between them. Continue Reading →

Documents show feds were onto Quiros long before state launched probe

Ariel Quiros (Courtesy photo)

ederal authorities launched an investigation into Jay Peak’s EB-5 projects nearly a year before state officials had their first inkling that something illegal was afoot. And documents on file at the Securities and Exchange Commission indicate that the agency had strong forensic evidence of a massive fraud well before the changes in state regulatory oversight that Gov. Peter Shumlin now credits for taking down the “Ponzi-like” scheme. On May 22, 2014, at about 10:30 in the morning at SEC offices in Miami, Florida, federal lawyers grilled Ariel Quiros about a series of financial transactions detailing alleged misappropriation of funds from the foreign investors. The 245-page transcript of their day-long interview reveals pieces of the evidence the SEC would later use to file dozens of federal civil charges against Quiros, the owner of Jay Peak, and Bill Stenger, the resort CEO that federal authorities say facilitated the scam. SEC lawyers conducted that deposition seven months before a memorandum of understanding that shifted the state’s financial oversight of Quiros’ and Stenger’s dealings away from the Agency of Commerce and Community Development, and over to the Department of Financial Regulation. Continue Reading →

Saint-Gobain appeals state’s enforcement level for PFOA

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MONTPELIER — The company believed by the state to be responsible for contaminating private water supplies in southern Vermont has filed an appeal challenging the state’s acceptable level for perfluorooctanoic acid. A former Chemfab factory in North Bennington, purchased by Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics in 2000 and shuttered in 2002, used the chemical known as PFOA to manufacture non-stick coatings like Teflon. The chemical is now showing up in groundwater and soil samples collected near the former factory. Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Deb Markowitz created a 20 parts per trillion limit for PFOA in groundwater on March 16 through an Interim Enforcement Standard. Setting an interim standard is allowed under the state’s existing Groundwater Protection Rule and Strategy. Continue Reading →

Story & Video: Gubernatorial candidates pounce on alleged EB-5 fraud, call for transparency and release of documents

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Peter Galbraith calls for an independent commission to investigate the state's role in EB-5 projects that are the subject of civil fraud litigation. (VPB/Neal Goswami)

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MONTPELIER — Candidates seeking to succeed Gov. Peter Shumlin are calling for transparency and one is seeking an independent commission to review the state’s involvement as a federal and state fraud case against two Northeast Kingdom developers proceeds. Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Peter Galbraith, a former Windham County state senator, held a State House news conference Monday to call for an independent commission appointed by the chief justice of the Vermont Supreme Court to investigate the state’s role in the fraud case against Bill Stenger and Ariel Quiros. The two men are facing civil litigation filed by the federal Securities and Exchange Commission and the state for allegedly misusing $200 million in investor funds they raised through the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program. Quiros is accused of using $50 million of investor funds for his own personal gain. Galbraith said the two men have contributed significant amounts of money to Gov. Peter Shumlin and the Vermont Democratic Party and it should be determined if those contributions resulted in any favorable treatment for the EB-5 projects led by Quiros and Stenger at the Jay Peak and Q Burke Mountain resorts, and other projects in Newport. Continue Reading →

Shumlin administration defends its request to delete emails

Darren Springer, chief of staff for Gov. Peter Shumlin, briefs reporters on the administration's request to delete the emails of former members of the governor's staff. (VPB/Neal Goswami)

MONTPELIER — The Shumlin administration sought Monday to disassociate its request to delete the emails of five former staffers from a major civil fraud case revealed last week against two developers in the Northeast Kingdom who used a foreign investor program overseen by the state to raise capital. Top administration officials briefed reporters on its request made prior to the public revelation of fraud charges against Bill Stenger and Ariel Quiros to delete the emails of former administration staff members that are more than three years old. The request to delete emails came under fire over the weekend after it was revealed in a VTDigger.org article. “To conflate them is absolutely incorrect and inaccurate,” Darren Springer, chief of staff for Gov. Peter Shumlin, told reporters Monday. 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. Continue Reading →

House Ways and Means amends pot bill, backs legalization

MONTPELIER — The House Ways and Means Committee has voted to approve an amendment to a marijuana bill that would allow for the legal possession of up to 1 ounce and cultivation of up to two marijuana plants. The amendment, which materialized in the committee Thursday, passed on a 7-4 vote Friday after a few minor changes. It would fundamentally alter the bill advanced by the House Judiciary Committee last week. The Judiciary Committee’s work stripped out the Senate’s language that legalized marijuana and created a regulatory structure for its retail sale. But support for that never materialized among Judiciary Committee members, so it was amended to create a commission to study the issue. Continue Reading →

Proposed Ways and Means amendment would legalize possession, home-grown pot

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MONTPELIER — The House Ways and Means Committee is considering an amendment to a marijuana bill that would allow for the legal possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana and cultivation of up to two marijuana plants. The amendment, which materialized in the committee on Thursday, could come up for a vote as early as Friday, according to members of the committee. It would fundamentally alter the bill advanced by the House Judiciary Committee last week. The Ways and Means Committee is reviewing a bill from House Judiciary that stripped away all legalization language and replaced it with a commission to study the issue. But about $500,000 in costs contained in the bill were not funded. Continue Reading →

Federal and state authorities allege massive fraud in Northeast Kingdom development projects

Attorney General William Sorrell speaks at a State House news conference held to announce fraud charges against the developers of several EB-5 projects in the Northeast Kingdom. (Times Argus/Jeb Wallace-Brodeur)

MONTPELIER — The federal Securities and Exchange Commission on Thursday unveiled a civil fraud complaint charging a “Ponzi-like scheme” involving the main actors in major Northeast Kingdom development projects for misusing $200 million dollars of foreign investors’ money, while state officials filed a state-level complaint mirroring the federal charges. Ariel Quiros and William Stenger, owners of Jay Peak Resort and the principals heading up eight different development projects through the federal EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program, have raised $350 million in $500,000 increments from foreign investors seeking permanent residency in the U.S. through the investor program. Federal and state officials on Thursday said $200 million of the money raised was misused, including $50 million by Quiros for his own personal benefit. The eight ambitious EB-5 projects include improvements at Jay Peak and Q Burke Resorts and a biomedical research facility in Newport. According to the state’s civil complaint, filed in Washington County Superior Court on Thursday, the duo used various limited partnership companies to raise the funds. Continue Reading →

Advocates call for equal pay for women

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A supporter of workplace gender equity wears an Equal Pay button Tuesday at the State House.

MONTPELIER — Politicians and advocates decried what they referred to as “occupational segregation” during Equal Pay Day. Tuesday marked Equal Pay Day in Vermont and across the country, as advocates highlighted the pay disparity between wages earned by men and women. At the State House, speakers addressed the disparity and released a report showing many jobs that pay a living wage are dominated by men, while women are more likely to be employed in fields that do not pay enough to survive, based on figures from the state’s Joint Fiscal Office. Gov. Peter Shumlin highlighted efforts to improve the lives of working women in the state, from paid sick leave and raising the minimum wage to universal pre-K education and protections for workers who compare their salaries. “We know that we must continue to close the pay gap. Continue Reading →