Why Is All This Federal Money Pouring in to Newport, Vermont?

by Steve MacDonald

Newport VTNewport, Vermont is a tiny ‘berg’ near the Canadian border of roughly 4,600 people, but it attracts federal money like nobody’s business. Senators Leahy and Sanders, along with Representative Welch, all from Vermont, have wrangled a small fortune in grants to …”remodel” the airport there, money that now has ties to some nefarious characters.

In September of 2014 the trio (Sanders, Leahy, and Welch) were proud to announce that the FAA was awarding $8.8 million to extend the runway 1000 feet and to complete construction on the apron, where the planes taxi and sit and so on.

In September of 2015 the same trio announced that DOT had approved an additional $8.3 million for improvement at the same airport in the same tiny town. These taxpayer dollars were earmarked to “construct a taxiway and extend the runway to accommodate more and larger planes.”

Every one of these press releases include this phrase or one very much  like it; “that will bring people for business, tourist and recreation opportunities throughout the region.”

It sounds like the business at hand is to bring federal grants into Newport. If true, $17 million dollars is a nice start for the upper-middle of nowhere, Vermont. And I’m sure it is lovely, but, as I mentioned earlier, there is trouble in paradise. Some of those tourist and recreation “opportunities” that are near the perennially-remodeled airport were “improved” thanks to the EB-5 Visa program (which allows wealthy immigrants to invest in the US in exchange for green cards and residency for themselves and their family).  The nefarious characters who received the investment dollars are now under investigation for fraud.

Jay Peak and Q Burke developer Bill Stenger (the state owns the airport and it is leased to QResorts for development) said that ground will be broken this spring for a new terminal, which he hopes will be in service by next ski season. He also anticipates that regular commercial air service will eventually serve the region. In Rutland, regular service is expanding and in Stowe a new service is coming for the first time in over 30 years, thus enhancing the ski-airport connections.

QResorts is owned by Ariel Quiros who, with Stenger, is behind the Jay Peak and Q Burke Resort EB-5 funded rehabs.

Patricia Sears, Chair, Northeast Kingdom International Airport Committee, who emceed the ribbon cutting event (at the Newport Airport), said that the success of the projects was due to the collaboration of many different partners, both private and public, including Stenger and his development group at Jay Peak and Q Burke resorts, state and federal government, local government and development organizations, local town, city and legislative officials and the FAA.

About that collaboration…,

In early February, Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy spoke before a Senate committee about problems with the EB-5 program. On Feb 2, 2016 Vermont Business Magazine Reported,

Problems plaguing the EB-5 Regional Center program must be addressed through bipartisan legislation this year, Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) said Tuesday in a sternly worded statement to his colleagues. Vermont developers have used EB-5 funding at several large, tourist-related development projects, including at Jay Peak and Burke Mountain, in Stowe and at Sugarbush, Okemo and Mount Snow. Because of a backlog in processing and increased oversight by federal regulators, including the SEC and USCIS (immigration), application approvals have slowed and projects have stalled.

It sounds like Leahy is going to bat for Stenger and Quiros to get them more money, because at the time of that hearing no one in Vermont was under investigation by the SEC or the feds.

That changed last week. They are now under investigation for fraud and for running a Ponzi scheme, …from day one.

Federal and state officials say the company played a shell game with $200 million invested by wealthy foreigners in exchange for green cards under the federal EB-5 program.

State officials became suspicious more than a year ago as Stenger and Quiros sought approval for a hotel and research facility. Closer inspection allegedly revealed problems throughout their entire portfolio.

“We saw anomalies and unusual transactions that raised regulatory concerns,” said Susan Donegan, the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation.

They say Quiros pocketed another $50 million for himself, using it for his Jay Peak buy-in, to pay personal property taxes and to buy a $2 million condo in Trump Tower in New York City.

Federal and state officials filed civil complaints Wednesday.

While they were defrauding investors, Vermont Senators Sanders, Leahy, and Congressman Welch, hauled in over $17 million in federal money, over two years, that has been handed over to the same development company, to expand the Newport Airport.

Now, correct me if I’m crazy, but is it at all possible that the push for additional EB-5 money or the remodel at the airport were intended to keep the Ponzi scheme afloat for a little while longer?

It sure sounds like it.

Newport, Vermont resident Bill Stenger has his fingers in all these pies, and like any good “developer” has invested his fair share of dollars on the local crop of politicians. He gave $4000.00 to the campaign of the current governor, Peter Shumlin, and his resort project, Jay Peak, shows a $2000.00 donation to Shumlin in 2012.

He gave Patrick Leahy $4800.00 dollars in 2010

Peter Welch got $1000.00 dollars in 2014.

Ariel Quiros gave $2000.00 directly to Shumlin, $14,000.00 to the VT Democrat Party, and another $12,000.00 to the Vermont State Democrat Federal Campaign Committee- which funnels donations to support the campaigns of Vermont’s…Senators and Congresspersons.

And Q Burke Mountain Resort gave Shumlin $2K in 2014.

And according to this report, the same Jay Peak developers have donated a total of least 71,900.00 dollars to Vermont Democrats since 2011.

It could all be a coincidence. The $17 million for runway-remodels in Newport. Swindled investors. Ponzi-like schemes. Bilking wealthy immigrants. The timing of the complaints about how the EB-5 process is too slow. The donations to politicians with ties to all that grant money and EB-5 bilking.

Probably just a coincidence?

One more thing. Two days ago, the General Services Administration of the US Government announced that it is seeking 2118 square feet of contiguous office space in Newport, Vermont.

An ongoing investigation might require some office space around the corner from the perps. This is Newport, Vermont. I hear they are working on this great airport. Might be time for an FBI office too.

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