Tag Archives: Peter Hirschfeld

Inartful dodges and implausible denials

Must be a new experience for Bill Stenger, having a hard time getting his calls returned. After all, he’s been a major player at the intersection of Vermont business and politics for a long time now, benefiting from sweetheart deals and inadequate oversight (see Postscript below) courtesy of at least two successive administrations.

After years of holding together his massive EB-5 project with chicken wire and spit, Stenger is now embroiled in the sales pitch of a lifetime: portraying himself as innocent in the face of federal and state investigations and an increasingly ugly paper trail.

From VPR’s Peter Hirschfeld, we learn that federal officials “had strong forensic evidence of a massive fraud” at least two years ago, and that Stenger was subjected to an intensive interview by SEC investigators in May 2014.

And from the Burlington Free Press’ Jess Aloe, we learn that Stenger’s top financial executive resigned in 2011 “after [Stenger] failed to address concerns about the use of money from foreign investors.”

It is literally impossible to believe that an experienced entrepreneur like Stenger could somehow remain clueless in the face of all that. But there he was, telling the Free Press last Monday (two days before the SEC raided his offices, seized his papers, and changed the locks) that nothing was wrong. And on Friday, two days after the raid, he doubled down.

“There was a lot of stuff in the presentation that I got on Wednesday that I was not aware of,” Stenger said. “I can’t go any further than that. I’ve got to let it go at that. I’m trying to figure this out as well. I just need to deal with it.”

Okay, I see what we’re doing here: blaming the dark-skinned flatlander.

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A Vermont state of mind

Looks like Garrett Graff hasn’t given up his ambition of becoming Vermont’s next Lieutenant Governor. As VPR’s Peter Hirschfeld reports, Graff is seeking an official ruling on his eligibility for the 2-16 ballot.

He seems to have run afoul of an oddly-worded Constitutional provision that appears to require four years of Vermont residency preceding the election. Graff, however, had lived in Washington, D.C. for ten years before returning to Vermont, uhh, two months ago.

By the way, is it just me, or does it seem like our Constitution was written by a bunch of drunks? (I mean, “he shall have resided in this State four years next preceding the day of the election,” WTF?) There’s a lot of stuff in there that I’d change if I had a magic wand. Unfortunately, Our Framers devised a maddeningly difficult process for amending the Constitution, so I think we’re stuck with it.

Anyway. First problem with Graff’s request? There is no process for an official ruling. (That darn Constitution again.) Secretary of State Jim Condos says it’s a matter for the courts to decide. Which would involve (a) Graff formally launching a campaign and (b) someone filing a court challenge against him. And even if that process began tomorrow, would the courts deliver a ruling in time for Graff to pursue a credible candidacy? Seems unlikely.

The impression is that Graff failed to do his homework.

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The Eternal General bows to the inevitable

It only took him about five months to figure it out, but Bill Sorrell finally announced today that he will not seek an eleventy-billionth term as Vermont’s Attorney General.

The end has been obvious to all since the early May appointment of former State Rep. Tom Little to head an independent investigation of Sorrell’s illegal (or at least thoroughly squicky) campaign finance activities.

SorrellZevonReally, the end has been all but obvious since Sorrell’s disastrous decision last March to throw the book at Dean Corren for an insignificant-at-best violation of the public financing law. Sorrell had alienated a lot of people over the years with his overzealous prosecution of campaign finance law and his underzealous pursuit of just about everything else in his purview. L’affaire Corren left him friendless in Montpelier and in Democratic and Progressive circles (he long ago lost the Republicans), with the possible exception of Sorrell’s political godfather, Howard Dean.

Today, the end came not with a bang, but an emailed whimper. Paul Heintz:

For a man who has spent much of his adult life in public service, Sorrell made his announcement in a remarkably low-key fashion. Rather than holding a press conference, he delivered the news in a terse, five-sentence statement emailed to reporters Monday afternoon.

Unsurprisingly, he couldn’t see any advantage to be gained from taking questions at his own political funeral.

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Ways of seeing a blind trust

Lt. Gov. Phil Scott’s announcement that he will run for governor came with a side dish of confusion, for those who scanned more than one account of the event.

At issue: what he will do with his half-ownership of Dubois Construction, which frequently bids on state contracts. Keeping an active hand in the business would be a pretty clear conflict of interest; the still-hypothetical Governor Scott would, after all, be filling positions in the Agency of Transportation and could presumably bring influence to bear on his firm’s behalf. Or even, perish the thought, provide inside info that would help Dubois submit winning bids.

But we all know Phil Scott, the golden boy of Vermont politics, would never do such a thing. Everybody knows good ol’ Phil, right?

Yeah, just like the State Senate didn’t know it was harboring a[n alleged] serial rapist until state troopers arrested good ol’ Norm McAllister on the grounds of the Statehouse. Point being, you never really know, do you?

That’s why we have ethics rules and laws. Well, most states do, anyway.

Apparently, when asked about the conflict question, good ol’ Phil gave different answers to different reporters.

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Bruce Lisman needs to work on his poker face

After his disastrous attempt to answer a simple question, our favorite Wall Street panjandrum made a strategic retreat and worked out a new story. With rather hilarious results.

For those just joining us, VPR’s Peter Hirschfeld discovered that someone was doing opposition research on Lt. Gov. Phil Scott. Hirschfeld asked the obvious suspect, Bruce Lisman, the only declared Republican in the race.

And Lisman basically soiled his britches. He said “it’s possible,” then denied contracting with anyone, then admitted “it could be,” and closed with “A note to self: I’m going to go find out.”

Apparently, even Lisman realized how much of a disaster that was. Because shortly after Hirschfeld’s story went up online, Lisman called him back with Version 2.0.

Which was a little more coherent, but barely credible.

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Bruce Lisman: unclear on the difference between transparency and opacity

Hoo boy. VPR’s Peter Hirschfeld got himself some red-hot sound bites from our newest gubernatorial candidate, Bruce Lisman.

Hirschfeld discovered that an out-of-state right-wing “opposition research firm” named Jackson Alvarez “was fishing for information on Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, including transportation contracts on which his company, Dubois Construction, had bid.”

Hmm. Who could possibly be searching for skeletons in Phil Scott’s closets? His potential Republican opponent, Bruce Lisman?

Well, Hirschfeld put the question to the retired Wall Street wizard. And the reply was an amazing display of political fumblemouth.

“Yes, it’s possible. We haven’t contracted for anything,” Lisman said Tuesday.

Whuh?

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The mudwashing of the Sorrell case

Hey, I invented a new word: it’s the opposite of “whitewashing” — the deliberate fouling of something previously spotless.

The legal troubles of Our Eternal General Bill Sorrell have two progenitors. Well, three if you count Clueless Bill himself. But the two I’m thinking of are (1) journalistic and (2) legal/political.

The former is good ol’ Paul Heintz, Seven Days’ political editor and columnist. He made public records requests for Sorrell’s emails and other materials, and ferreted out the unseemly details of the AG’s campaign finance carelessness and his overly cozy relations with the designated AG-handlers at some big national law firms. He posted his first story on April 1, and a follow-up with fresh details on May 11.

Heintz’ reporting, it must be said, was met with a very curious silence from the rest of our political media.

The other progenitor is Brady Toensing, vice chair of the VTGOP, who used Heintz’ reporting as the basis of a formal complaint against Sorrell, filed on May 20. That complaint somehow transmuted Heintz’ previously ignored reporting into a story that other media finally felt obliged to pick up. Toensing’s complaint, in turn, led to the appointment of independent investigator Tom Little.

But the media have reported it as a matter between Toensing and Sorrell, removing Heintz (and the journalistic underpinnings) from their narratives. I’d expect this sort of convenient reasoning from Sorrell himself:

“I enjoy the work. I can’t say that I enjoyed the Toensing assaults on my personal integrity and that I would abuse the integrity of the office. I’m not a masochistic person and that is not fun, whatsoever.”

Oh good, I can stop trying to imagine Bill Sorrell in leather restraints and a ball gag.

[Purell break.]

Sorry. The point is, it’s clearly in Sorrell’s political interest to depict this whole mess as a partisan attack. But why should our distinguished political media carry that water for him?

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