Something stinks around here, and it looks like the Powers That Be are scrambling to keep anyone from identifying the source of the stench.
For those just tuning in, tonight’s VTDigger brings us the happy tidings of an agreement between federal prosecutors and Bill Stenger, one of the defendants in the EB-5 fraud case. The two sides have agreed on what evidence will be presented in Stenger’s case… and in exchange, Stenger’s lawyers won’t force a whole bunch of well-connected Vermonters to testify under oath.
See, Stenger’s defense had argued that state officials knew about the fraud long before it was publicly revealed and did nothing to stop it. Given the contents of a recent document dump, it’s clear that Team Shumlin knew a great deal and did their best to keep it under the rug. So their appearances under oath would have been at least embarrassing and perhaps incriminating.
The Vermonters in question include former governor Peter Shumlin and at least five top officials in his administration. They would have taken the stand next week, so this deal is a last-minute reprieve for these worthies. And yet another roadblock in the path of public disclosure. This fraud goes back at least a decade, and we’ve still only seen the faint outlines of official complicity.
Imagine, just for shits and giggles, Shumlin takes the stand and his testimony is at odds with the evidentiary record. Or he ducks the questions and pleads the Fifth. Not a good look, that.
The deal with Stenger seems to have come about in a New York minute. Digger:
The agreement Monday follows a hearing Thursday in which the prosecutors and Stenger’s attorneys did not appear likely to reach any accord on evidence, and instead, the lawyers laid out their plans for moving forward to the two-week hearing.
That’s remarkably quick. Less than two business days quick. A lot quicker than any normal court proceeding.
Ya think there were powerful people out there who wanted that public testimony quashed? You betcha.
Now, federal prosecutors aren’t at the beck and call of Vermont officials and ex-officials. But they do serve at the pleasure of the President, who belongs to the same party as Shumlin.
As does the patron saint of Vermont politics, Sen. Patrick Leahy. Vermont’s very senior senator has been a loud and consistent booster of the EB-5 program. He has frequently touted the program in general and the Vermont projects in particular. He is also the senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversees the Justice Department and all the U.S. Attorneys.
So let’s say the responsible (heh) officials in the Shumlin administration knew the EB-5 thing was a crock. Do you think they kept that information from Leahy and just let him blithely go on promoting a deal they knew to be fraudulent? Do you think that Leahy didn’t avail himself of every opportunity to be briefed on the progress of the Vermont projects?
There’s no visible fire, but there’s a hell of a lot of smoke. So I pose the question: What did Pat Leahy know, and when did he know it?
And I don’t think it’s an unreasonable question to ask.
Did Leahy act in Washington to protect his Democratic allies? Was he worried about where their testimony might lead?
Does the Stenger deal make it less likely that we’ll ever get answers to these questions?
Yep. And that stinks.