The EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa was created by Senator Ted Kennedy's Immigration Act of 1990, which was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush. The Vermont EB5 Regional Center was created as a USCIS Designated Regional Center in 1997. Under the program, a foreigner can invest $500,000 in an approved Vermont business, which must then create jobs. In exchange, the investor receives a green card and, in theory, a return on their investment from the business.
Bill Stenger, Ariel Quiros, and Jay Peak
In the middle of the controversy is William Stenger, the longtime operator of Jay Peak. Stenger, a political science major at Syracuse University, started at Jay Peak in 1985, following a decade of work at Jack Frost Mountain. In 2008, Stenger recruited Ariel Quiros to purchase Jay Peak from Mont Saint Sauveur International. Following the acquisition, the group's EB-5 proposals expanded throughout the Northeast Kingdom with a planned price tag of $500 million. Meanwhile, Stenger and Quiros started a massive campaign of contributing to politicians, paying for their international junkets, and arranging press conferences and committee appearances to boost investor interest.
Senator Patrick Leahy
(Patrick Leahy and Bill Stenger)
Patrick Leahy, 76, has been serving in Washington since 1975, making him the longest tenured Senator in the United States. The Democrat was most recently reelected in 2010 and is seeking reelection in 2016.
Leahy boasted about creating the Vermont EB-5 Regional Center in 1997 and extending the EB-5 program six times in subsequent years.
Leahy has been a big promoter of Bill Stenger and Ariel Quiros for years, making their projects the subject of many speeches, hearings, and press releases. In addition, Leahy's uncle-in-law, Tony Pomerleau, was set to make millions off a Stenger-Quiros hotel and conference center on the Newport waterfront.
In March 2009, Stenger donated $4,800 to Leahy. Four months later, Leahy arranged to have Stenger testify at a Senate Foreign Investor Program hearing.
In April 2014, Leahy joined Stenger for investor recruitment meetings in Shanghai and Hanoi. Weeks later, Leahy received $5,000 in contributions from Jay Peak's Jay Peak EB-5 Legal Counsel Charles Leamy.
In May 2014, Leahy's uncle-in-law backed out of the Newport waterfront deal, stating, "I haven't received one dime and we're talking about a big deal, millions of dollars." Leahy maintained his strong support of the remaining Stenger-Quiros projects.
On April 13, 2016, while the Q Burke offices were being raiding by SEC investigators, Senator Leahy stated at a hearing, "If this Regional Center program is to continue, it must be reformed." When asked two days later if his sudden change in position was influenced by a tip from the SEC, Leahy responded, "It doesn't ring a bell."
At a press conference on April 15, Leahy blamed Tea Party Republicans for a lack of EB-5 oversight, yet also credited the program's oversight for "finding out what's going on." Leahy also stated the EB-5 program should be terminated if reform legislation isn't enacted.
When asked about Stenger's thousands in campaign contributions, Leahy responded, "not thousands." When confronted with the $4,800 in 2009 contributions, Leahy responded, "That was in my last election, I haven't had any in this election" and that he has instructed his staff to give all of the contributions to "some charity in the Northeast Kingdom that would enable people jobs."
When asked about his relationship with Stenger, Leahy called him a friend, but quickly added that Stenger is a Republican.
"It's created thousands of jobs in the Northeast Kingdom alone, but the most important thing is that it didn't cost the taxpayers one penny." - Senator Patrick Leahy
Senator Bernie Sanders
(Bill Stenger and Bernie Sanders)
Bernie Sanders, 74, has been serving in Washington since 1991. Sanders was elected to the Senate as an Independent in 2006 and reelected in 2012. Sanders is currently seeking the Democratic nomination for President.
Sanders has supported the EB-5 program and has attended ceremonies and tours of Stenger-Quiros properties. According to a source, Sanders has refused invitations for similar ceremonies at other Vermont ski resorts, such as Okemo.
Sanders is a close friend of Senator Leahy's uncle-in-law Tony Pomerleau, who was planning to receive millions of dollars for the Stenger-Quiros Newport waterfront project.
Sanders praised the Stenger-Quiros project at speeches and on his web site, calling it "incredible," "a big deal," and that the project had his "enthusiastic backing.'
Unlike Leahy, Sanders apparently did not attend any EB-5 investor trips, nor receive campaign contributions from the Stenger-Quiros group. Nonetheless, Sanders has already come under fire in Forbes for his involvement and refusal to comment following the raid.
"What you are seeing here is a marriage and partnership between private business and federal, state and local government." - Senator Bernie Sanders
Congressman Peter Welch
(Bill Stenger and Peter Welch)
Peter Welch, 68, has been serving Vermont in Washington since 2007. Welch is Vermont's lone Representative, winning reelection every two years. Welch is expected to seek reelection in 2016.
Welch spoke glowingly of the program on the House floor in 2012, stating, "In the Northeast Kingdom, where we've had among other jobs created, two ski areas that have been able to take advantage of the EB-5 program, get investor money, build the infrastructure that is so essential to the tourist economy that we have in Vermont."
Months after receiving a $1,000 contribution from Bill Stenger, Congressman Welch joined Stenger for a junket to Shanghai and Hanoi in 2014.
"This is terrific. The EB-5 program works." - Congressman Peter Welch
Congressman Darrell Issa
Darrell Issa, 62, has served in Washington since 2001 as a Southern California Representative.
In 2013, the Republican sponsored the SKILLS Visa Act (H.R.2131), which would have made the EB-5 program permanent. Stenger introduced Issa at the 2014 Southern California EB-5 Conference and days later contributed $5,000 to Issa's campaign. H.R. 2131 died in Congress at the end of 2014.
"This bill is an investment in our Nation's future. The SKILLS Visa Act will allow the best and brightest foreign graduates of American universities to stay in the U.S., encourage entrepreneurs and investors to grow our economy, and create American jobs." - Congressman Darrell Issa
Governor Jim Douglas
(Jim Douglas and Bill Stenger)
Jim Douglas, 64, was first elected Governor of Vermont in 2002. A Republican, Douglas was reelected three times. He declined to run for reelection in 2010, instead becoming an executive at Middlebury College.
As governor during the start of the Jay Peak EB-5 project, Douglas traveled with Stenger to South Korea, Hong Kong, and Taiwan in October 2009 and to Tokyo, Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai and Vietnam in October 2010. Prior to the first trip, Stenger stated, "I'm looking forward to traveling with the Governor Douglas because the State of Vermont's support is critical to establishing the credibility of this program."
"Thanks to the EB-5 program, our economic development team and Bill Stenger - who was instrumental in bringing this company to Vermont - we are bringing millions in new investment to Vermont businesses and hundreds of new jobs to our state at this critical time." - Governor Jim Douglas
Governor Peter Shumlin
(Patrick Leahy, Bill Stenger, Peter Shumlin, Ariel Quiros)
Peter Shumlin, 60, has been Vermont's Governor since 2011, winning reelection every two years thereafter. A Democrat, Shumlin is not seeking reelection in 2016.
During the 2010 election, Stenger and Jay Peak contributed $4,000 to Shumlin's opponent, Lieutenant Governor Brian Dubie. During the campaign, Shumlin attacked Dubie and Douglas for their trips with Stenger, stating "I do not think the answer to our economic problems is junkets to China," and "As Brian Dubie and others have traveled to Asia they have taken more jobs with them than they brought back to Vermont."
Soon after the election, Shumlin had a change of heart.
"We have a pioneer in this effort, Bill Stenger, of Jay Peak, deep in the Northeast Kingdom, who joins us today. Bill has plumbed this federal program to its fullest potential." - Governor Peter Shumlin, 2011 Inaugural Address
Stenger, his wife, and Jay Peak greased the skids in 2012, contributing $6,000 to Douglas. The following year, Shumlin travelled with Stenger to Beijing, Shenzhen, Ho Chi Minh City and Shanghai, stating 'I don't recall being critical of any particular trip that Gov. Douglas made. He did a good job as governor trying to grow jobs." Weeks after returning from the junket, Shumlin received another $2,000 contribution from Stenger.
"The need for skilled workers goes on and on. Perhaps that need is best embodied in the Northeast Kingdom, the area of our state that for generations has struggled with chronically high unemployment rates and low incomes, where Bill Stenger and Ari Quiros continue to shine a beacon of hope, opportunity and future prosperity." - Governor Peter Shumlin, 2013 Inaugural Address
Contributions to Shumlin from the Stenger-Quiros group exploded in 2014, as $15,000 was donated to the Governor from the group's executives and sister companies. Around this time, Ary Quiros Jr. was appointed by Shumlin to the Governor's Veterans Advisory Council.
According to VTDigger, the Shumlin administration was alerted to the pending Securities and Exchange Commission action on April 7, 2016. On April 8, Shumlin's lawyer requested the state technology department to delete e-mails from key officials in his administration. At the April 14 press conference following the SEC raid, Shumlin refused to respond to a request to release e-mails pertaining to his involvement with the projects.
"Does the EB-5 program allow us to bring capital into Vermont to grow economic opportunities and jobs that we otherwise wouldn't have had? Yes, it does, and I'm going to harvest every single one of those dollars that we can." - Governor Peter Shumlin
Republican and Democratic Committees
Beyond individual campaigns, the Stenger-Quiros group donated large sums to political parties. Stenger contributed $2,000 to the Republican Party in 2010. In 2012 and 2014, Quiros, his wife Okcha, a Quiros company, and CFO George Gulisano donated a total of $48,000 to the Vermont Democratic Party.
Sources: Federal Election Commission (Federal), National Institute on Money in State Politics (State)
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