Governor Shumlin calls the Stengerville Scandal “a dark day for Vermont.” Well, no, not really.
It’s a bad day for the Northeast Kingdom. For the rest of Vermont, it’s not going to make much of a difference. Not in economic terms, anyway.
No, the day is darkest, by far, for Vermont’s political and business elite, who have eagerly promoted this project for years, and have done Captain Renault proud in overseeing a couple of guys who spun a tale too good to be true, and who turned out to be fraudsters on a massive scale.
A lot of smart people acted like rubes. They were completely taken in by the immigration equivalent of a Nigerian email scam. And many of them should be held to account. My own list includes the past two Governors (the fraud began “from day one” in 2008, which means it was the Douglas administration that orchestrated this deal and established the regulatory process that failed so spectacularly), the past three Secretaries of Commerce and Community Development, the various bureaucrats who were directly tasked with EB-5 oversight, top lawmakers from both parties, business leaders who might have realized it was in their interest to avoid an embarrassing and wide-ranging financial scandal in their backyards, and various and sundry members of the political establishment — whose number, IMO, includes one Phil Scott, a contented and connected establishmentarian since 2002, I believe.
The day is even darker for would-be immigrant investors, many of whom will not only never see their money again, but will also never get their green cards. But hey, they’re just a buncha foreigners, so whatever.
As far as I know, nobody has yet asked Governor Douglas or his top economic-development officials any hard questions about the creation of the Stenger/Quiros EB-5 project, which happened under his watch. Douglas happily traveled around the world on Stenger’s dime (cough, I mean, his foreign marks’ dime) promoting the project, thus helping Stenger and Quiros perpetrate their massive fraud.
I do hope somebody pins down Jim Douglas on all of this. We need to know how it happened so we can prevent it from ever happening again.
As for Governor Shumlin, still busily depicting himself as the hero of this two-bit melodrama, well, more evidence that he’s just blowing smoke comes to us from a younger Paul Heintz, writing in Seven Days a full four years ago.
Reminder: Shumlin is asserting that he started feeling queasy about Stengerville in 2014, which led to transferring oversight from ACCD to the Department of Financial Regulation. It was the DFR’s bloodhounds who did much to uncover the scam.
Which doesn’t explain why Shumlin resolutely kept his doubts to himself until the scandal broke wide open this week. It also doesn’t explain why Shumlin didn’t think anything was wrong until 2014, since there were definite signs of trouble a full two years earlier. Take it away, Younger Paul Heintz, dateline April 4, 2012:
… one of Jay Peak’s closest associates, Rapid USA Visas, recently disparaged Stenger and his company by publicly severing its ties with the resort and questioning its financial health.
For five years, Rapid USA had worked closely with Jay Peak to attract foreign investors.
… That changed [in March 2012], when hundreds of immigration attorneys around the world received an email from the firm that announced, “Rapid USA no longer has confidence in the accuracy of representations made by Jay Peak, Inc., or in the financial status of and disclosures made by [it].”
Now, there’s a big red flag if ever I saw one. A company whose business is enabling EB-5 programs suddenly backs away from Stenger. And, pray tell, how did the Shumlin administration respond?
“We, of course, wanted to take a closer look, so we spent the entire day at Jay after that letter,” says James Candido, who directs the state’s EB-5 program at the Agency of Commerce and Community Development. “There was absolutely nothing that was out of the ordinary.”
A whole bleepin’ day. Presumably in the company of Stenger and friends. And presumably the state Commerce officials didn’t have the accounting expertise that, say, the Department of Financial Regulation could bring to bear.
Wouldn’t have mattered anyway, because ONE FRICKIN’ DAY is not enough to untangle a carefully-constructed fraudulent enterprise. It is enough to share a drink with good ol’ Bill Stenger and fill up on his silver-tongued reassurances.
(By the way, would it surprise you in the slightest to hear that Mr. Candido left ACCD in 2012 to take a job with a Boston law firm developing an EB-5 project out west? No? Oh, you cynical bastard. Welcome to the club.)
This wasn’t the only red flag concerning EB-5 in Vermont that predated Shumlin’s self-proclaimed Eureka moment. Heintz goes on to recount the sad story of DreamLife, a Canadian company that promised to use EB-5 money to build four luxurious senior-living complexes in Vermont.
Problem: DreamLife was basically a company whose sole function was to attract EB-5 investors and skim off commissions. And the company was spectacularly unsuccessful; it never attracted investors, and never even began acquiring land for its developments.
Former DreamLife employee Douglas Littlefield says the company has reneged on numerous business commitments. “Personally, I don’t think he should have been allowed to come to Vermont,” says Littlefield, who was hired two years ago to scout potential sites. “I wish anyone who works with him good luck.”
“He” is DreamLife founder Richard Parenteau, a man with a checkered past who had to cut ties with DreamLife when his legal entanglements in Canada prevented him from crossing the border to do business in the States. And what Littlefield is saying, basically, is “How in hell did the state of Vermont let this guy get a foot in the door?”
You can read many more details at Heintz’ 2012 piece, which is strongly recommended. Suffice it to say, there was a hell of a lot of smoke, and even some visible flames, around Vermont’s EB-5 program long before Shumlin attained clarity in 2014. The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow was too enticing for Shumlin to start asking questions about EB-5 until he had no choice.
He chooses to start his narrative from a point in time that makes him look good. Or at least not quite so bad. We shouldn’t let him get away with it.
Nor should we let Shumlin take all the blame. Jim Douglas, what say you? Any regrets? Any apologies for the EB-5 investors you helped ensnare in Stenger’s web of deceit?
Phil Scott, you’re casting postdated aspersions about Shumlin’s oversight of Stengerville. What’s your record on EB-5 projects? Have you touted EB-5 as a valuable tool for economic development? Have you been there, smiling and punching shoulders, at project unveilings? Have you cozied up to EB-5 developers? Have you gone on any junkets?
As for the rest of you… well, you know who you are, and your time will come.