I’ve read a lot of damaging political reportage in my time, but rarely have I seen a single piece as devastating as this.
In the latest installment of VTDigger’s ever-unfolding saga of EB-5 corruption, Anne Galloway and Paul Heintz have poured gasoline on the tattered remains of former governor Peter Shumlin’s reputation, tossed in a match, and stood back to watch the flames soar to the sky.
The story, based on FBI interview notes released by a federal judge, shows that Shumlin acted recklessly, flouted ethical standards, ignored the rising tide of evidence that the investment projects run by Ariel Quiros and Bill Stenger were deeply fraudulent, and ignored the counsel of close advisors that he was flying far too close to the EB-5 sun.
I have said before that Shumlin must have been either “complicit or stupid” about the scandal and I’m not sure which would be worse. Well, it’s looking more and more like complicity driven by the unmediated gall of the man.
The story is so rich with damning detail that it’s tough to know where to start. I’ll hit a few high points, but I urge you to go and read the whole thing.
The piece begins with Shumlin getting his first inkling that the Quiros/Stenger scheme was going off the rails. It happened in August of 2014, more than a year and a half before it all came crashing down when the feds filed suit against the two tricksters over allegations of fraud.
Did Shumlin spend that time getting to the root of the issue? Well, not exactly.
Instead, he repeatedly had private contacts and meetings with Quiros, accepted gifts from the man, brushed aside concerns raised by top officials, and continued to be the projects’ cheerleader-in-chief. And when asked by the FBI about the growing sea of red flags, he made like Captain Renault.
Shumlin responded that he had, indeed, read media reports about those issues and had asked his staff to look into them. But as far as he knew, the developers were “saints” and “miracle-workers” who were creating hundreds of jobs in the economically challenged Northeast Kingdom. “We thought we were on the side of the angels,” he said.
This, in spite of the fact that top aides were deeply concerned. Former aides told prosecutors that the back-channel comms between governor and sleaze-meister troubled them. Shumlin’s financial regulation commissioner Susan Donegan threatend to resign if the administration didn’t take steps to protect investors who were still being suckered into the projects.
Elsewhere in the FBI interviews, Shumlin portrays himself as a victim of a scheme that hurt him as much as anybody. It’s the kind of thing that requires more than a bit of sociopathy to think, let alone say out loud. After all, Shumlin never lost a dime. He didn’t have a city block destroyed for a ghost investment, like Newport did. He didn’t fail to get paid for work done on the projects, as happened to many contractors.
He did see, and continues to see, his legacy being torpedoed by the scandal. And for a prideful politician, that’s worse than other people losing their money, property or livelihoods.
Before we put a bow on this five-pound bag, let’s take a moment to thank VTDigger for relentlessly pursuing this mare’s nest. It’s taken uncounted hours of reporters’ time and effort, and some epic-level attorney bills. If not for Digger, we would never have known the depth or extent of the EB-5 mess. Once again with this story, Digger continues to deliver revelations for the history books.
Those with long enough memories will recall the Jerry Dodge land deal that marked the beginning of the end for Shumlin’s reputation. As he was building a home in East Montpelier, he basically swindled a neighbor in a one-sided land deal. It had nothing to do with Shumlin the public figure, but people saw that and reacted strongly. It was a sign that Shumlin was a wise guy who couldn’t be trusted.
It was the Jerry Dodge case that set the stage for Shumlin’s career-killing near defeat at the hands of Scott Milne, the most inept candidate to grab a major-party nomination in living memory.
And it’s the case that rings loudly in the ears, as one reads this tale of Shumlin’s biggest dodge of all. It’s everything that Shumlin’s laughable official portrait tries to conceal.
Yeah, this one.
In a recent hearing about art in the Statehouse, someone suggested that it was time to end the practice of hanging every official gubernatorial portrait because some of the early ones are, frankly, godawful. I’d suggest that this one might deserve to meet that fate. Not because of artistic merit, but because of how deeply it misrepresents its subject.