Some Rich Guy is Buying Up Southeast Vermont

Until today, I’d never heard of Paul (nee Pavel) Belogour, a native of Belarus who’s made a fortune in international investing and related software. Now, he’s the incoming owner of three newspapers in southern Vermont: the Brattleboro Reformer, Bennington Banner, and Manchester Journal. The big prizes are the Reformer and Banner, the only two daily newspapers south of Rutland.

This is either a really good thing or a really bad thing. When an oligarch swoops in and buys media outlets, it may be out of a true sense of obligation to support journalism. The owner’s deep pockets can counter the effects of the news business’ decline. Or it might just be a matter of collecting trophies and buying influence with little regard to the health of the publications. On the rich-guy scale, this purchase amounts to spare change.

Oh, and his native country is a corrupt dictatorship which ranks… let’s see… 158th on Reporters Without Borders’ ranking of 180 countries. RWB noted that Belarus is “the most dangerous country in Europe for media personnel.” Let’s hope Mr. Belogour doesn’t practice his homeland’s approach to the press.

The Reformer and Banner have been circling the drain for some time. How they’ve survived the pandemic on top of all that, I have no idea. But it’s not surprising that Massachusetts-based New England Newspapers, which bought the papers a few years back with an eye toward enhancing the bare-bones operations, has now decided to sell out.

There is another dimension to this. Belogour has been buying up properties in southeast Vermont at a rapid clip. He’s well on his way to becoming a real economic force in the region. And now he’s going to control the daily newspaper? That’s troubling.

So let’s look at the available Google trail on Mr. Belogour, shall we?

Belogour originally came to America to attend college, where he was a competitive rower. After finishing school, he decided to stay here. He spent most of his life in the Boston area, where he built his businesses and his fortune. He founded Boston Merchant Financial Services, which has become a major player in the foreign exchange market (trading currencies internationally). He later founded UniSoft Technologies, an IT firm that develops investment software. He also operates a high-end real estate firm and an investment fund in the United Arab Emirates.

After the 2008 crash, Belogour and his wife Christina decided to move away from the big city. They first bought a farm in Bernardstown, Mass., and sometime in the past few years relocated to Guilford, Vermont, south of Brattleboro.

Since his arrival, he’s been snapping up real estate. Here’s a list of his acquisitions taken from a Reformer story published on December 25. Remember that all these transactions happened in just a few years’ time.

  • He bought a property in Guilford where he hopes to build “Viking Village,” a re-creation of Viking life modeled after Sturbridge Village.
  • He has purchased a total of 3,000 acres in Guilford.
  • He bought the former Black Bear Sugarworks and rebranded it as Viking Farms.
  • He also bought 1,400 acres in the neighboring town of Halifax.
  • He spent $1.5 million for four commercial properties in Brattleboro.
  • In one of those buildings, he plans to create the Vermont Innovation Box, a business incubator.
  • In another, he hopes to develop a glass production facility tied to the next project…
  • He wants to build a glass house that will be, he said, “out of this world in terms of architecture.”
  • He spent $640,000 to buy Norm’s Marina on the Connecticut River in Hinsdale, NH because “I love rivers. It goes back to my rowing days.”
  • He has also bought eight acres of Connecticut River frontage.
  • He purchased a vacant industrial warehouse in Brattleboro, where
  • He bought the Trout River Brewing Company in Springfield, which he renamed Vermont Beer Makers.
  • He tried to buy the former campus of Southern Vermont College in Bennington, but was outbid by Southwestern Vermont Health Care.

That’s as of last December. Who knows what he’s snapped up since then.

What you don’t see in his life story is any connection whatsoever to journalism.

This all reminds me of one Tom Monaghan, a southeast Michigan man who founded Domino’s Pizza. He is an extremely devout Catholic and a major contributor to Opus Dei, a secretive organization that’s been called “the most controversial group in the Catholic Church today.” Before he sold Domino’s to a hedge fund, his franchises attracted criticism and the occasional boycott over Monaghan’s hard-right politics.

When his business matured, he went on a spending spree. He collected rare automobiles, he built a dramatically-designed Domino’s headquarters on the outskirts of Ann Arbor, he built a farm slash petting zoo on the headquarters’ grounds, amassed a multi-million-dollar collection of Frank Lloyd Wright designs, drawings, correspondence, doors, windows and more, he bought a Gulfstream jet and a helicopter, and he spent a half billion dollars building Ave Maria, a planned community in Florida operating along very strict Catholic principles, and the associated Ave Maria University. And he bought an Ann Arbor radio station and renamed it WPZA, because pizza, get it?

Oh, and he also bought the Detroit Tigers.

He was an inconstant steward of his properties, often more occupied with his faith than anything else. And eventually he soured on almost everything he scooped up. He would sell off holdings seemingly on a whim, often without regard to current value.

Obviously, there are a lot of differences between Monaghan and Belogour. There’s no hint of religious extremism in the Baron of Brattleboro. His purchases are too recent for him to have grown weary of them, and perhaps he never will.

What they do have in common is (1) great wealth and (2) a record of serial enthusiasms. It’s great on the upswing, but the bottom can fall out at any moment. “Viking Village” in particular reminds me very much of a Monaghan project.

Southern Vermont’s two leading newspapers are now under the aegis of, or at the mercy of, a major investor whose attitude toward the principles of journalism is a mystery. This is a precarious position for the newspapers and their communities. I hope for the best, and fear for the worst.

15 thoughts on “Some Rich Guy is Buying Up Southeast Vermont

  1. ADN

    It appears that a bunch of folks in the United Arab Emirates and other countries outside the U.S. believe they have been scammed and defrauded by Paul Belogour and his firm, BMFN. Below is a link to a Facebook group for alleged victims’ of Belogour’s firm. Looks like the Facebook group started in January. This might also explain why Belogour, aka, Pavel Boguslavovich, hired a reputation management firm to scrub his name on the Internet before he started his Vermont buying spree. To be clear: I don’t know the legitimacy of the claims made in this Facebook group for “BMFN victims.” But if we still have any local press left in Southeastern Vermont, this would certainly be worth investigation.

    https://www.facebook.com/groups/bmfnvictims/

    Reply
  2. Chuck

    What a weirdly alarmist article.

    “Scary foreigner (who has lived here for seemingly 30 years) has money and is buying things…maybe too many things!”

    Reply
  3. callmesalticidae

    This could still be “a story,” as they say, without talking about the country which he apparently left as a college student. “Rich dude buying up a lot of stuff, including multiple newspapers” is worth noting, but if he immigrated from the country decades ago, then it looks a lot like xenophobic fearmongering to lead with his nation of origin, point out that he anglicized his name, and talk about the level of corruption in a country which he, you know, left decades ago.

    Reply
  4. H. Jay Eshelman

    An immigrant (Paul Belogour), comes to Northeastern University 30 years ago on a rowing scholarship (a ‘scholarship’ mind you), makes good, moves to Vermont, invests in the local economy, and he’s automatically characterized by you as a ‘swooping oligarch’, like some ‘Opus Dei’ guy (as in Tom Hanks’ movie The Da Vinci Code). And now he’s suspect, because he ‘reminds’ you of another guy named Tom Monaghan, who happened to own the Detroit Tigers 30 years ago… a guy that Belogour (or any of the rest of us) has likely never heard of?

    If you’re going to disrespect ‘rich guys’ controlling the media, how about mentioning Jeff Bezos and the Washington Post, or the Lintilhac Foundation and the Johnson Family Foundation, who significantly influence Vermont Public Radio, VT Digger and the Vermont Community Foundation? I’ll be curious to see if the Brattleboro Reformer stops censoring conservative commentary (as VPR and Digger do) under Mr. Belogour’s tenure. Or could that eventuality be why you put forth this feeble hit piece in the first place?

    Oh, that’s right. Belogour’s from Belarus, bordered by Russia and the Ukraine. Isn’t it time for a preemptive ‘special investigation’ because he’s surely colluding with Russia – and ‘the orange man’? Talk about conspiracy theories and unfounded personal attacks. At least give the guy the benefit of the doubt until he proves himself worthy of your imagined paranoia.

    Reply
    1. H. Jay Eshelman

      So, John, is your piece on Belogour a coordinated effort with VT Digger’s innuendo?

      “A newcomer’s recent purchase of more than $3 million in southern Vermont properties, combined with his high-profile acquisition of three local newspapers, has raised questions about who he is, where his money comes from and what his motives are.”

      I’d think these cancel culture warriors would know better than to be so obvious, rather than perpetuate their ‘fake news’ moniker. I mean, really. If Belogour has done something wrong, investigate BEFORE you report.

      Reply
      1. John S. Walters Post author

        Believe me, nothing’s coordinated with Digger. You might recall that they fired me last year. And it wasn’t a Deep State double-reverse secret agreement either.

  5. Stu Lindberg

    I thought liberals liked immigrants? I guess they only like them if they vote Democrat. A viking village in Vermont sounds awesome.

    Reply
    1. John S. Walters Post author

      My concerns are centered on his buying spree and the power it brings, combined with him owning the daily newspapers in the region. But then you knew that, didn’t you?

      Reply
  6. Chuck Hoover

    Looking forward to the writer having a sit down interview with Beloguar. As for him buying up newspapers, no one is forcing the current owners to sell. They’re getting out because the economics stink. All sorts of individuals and groups are buying and consolidating dailies and weeklies all over the Midwest to capture eyeballs revenue from Google Adwords in the digital editions.

    Reply
    1. John S. Walters Post author

      Which is beside the point. Which was that when a wealthy man who’s got a lot of influence buys a small community’s one and only established media outlet, that could mean trouble.

      Reply
      1. H. Jay Eshelman

        “…could mean trouble”. Or not.
        Why is your glass always half empty before anyone takes a drink?
        I’m curious. As long as you’re speculating, what sorts of nefarious possibilities concern you?

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