BURLINGTON, Vt. – On Friday, former Jay Peak Resort President and CEO Bill Stenger reached a plea deal connected to the largest fraud case in Vermont history.
Stenger pleaded guilty to submitting false documents to federal officials, and in doing so, he will avoid fraud charges, but could still face up to five years in prison.
The charge stems from a plan to build a biotechnology plant in Newport using money raised from foreign investors through the EB-5 program, which allows foreign investors to contribute toward U.S. projects in exchange for a chance to earn permanent residency.
“Since this whole issue erupted, I’ve spent every day that I could trying to help Newport through the trials that it’s going through,” Stenger said following Friday’s hearing.
Stenger’s role had been described as pitching the project to those investors, while former Jay Peak owner Ariel Quiros was described as the ‘decision-maker’.
Stenger’s attorney said he believes his client won’t have to serve prison time when all is said and done, and quickly turned his focus to two other prominent figures in the investigation – Quiros and his advisor Bill Kelly.
“They’re fraudsters, they’re con-artists, and they took advantage of Bill Stenger and the people of the Northeast Kingdom,” said Attorney Brooks McArthur.
Quiros reached a plea deal of his own last August. McArthur took issue in particular with comments from Quiros’ attorney Neil Taylor, who suggested Stenger’s plea deal only came about because of his client’s prior cooperation.
“Neil Taylor doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” McArthur said. “Ariel Quiros has a hard time saying his name honestly, so we would’ve welcomed at any point having Ariel Quiros get on the stand because we’ve got binders of inconsistent statements, lies, and other people he’s frauded throughout his career.”
According to the U.S. Attorney’s office, roughly 169 investors pitched in $85 million for the project, which never got off the ground.
In exchange for Stenger’s guilty plea, the federal government dropped nine other charges.
McArthur was asked about Department of Financial Regulation Commissioner Michael Pieciak’s comments that a five year sentence is ‘significant’ and the plea brings closure to the Northeast Kingdom. He criticized Pieciak of ‘grandstanding.’
“You know, they can say what they want, but I’m pleased he took responsibility for his actions and I’m glad the matter has closed and I’m proud of the work our department did as well,” Pieciak said. “We spent a tremendous amount of time following every penny of this fraud.”
Next up for Stenger will likely be an evidentiary presentation in late October, where Quiros and Kelly are expected to testify.
A third named co-defendant, South Korean businessman Alex Choi, is still at large. Choi, who was convicted of financial fraud in his home country in 2016, is accused of serving as a silent partner in the Newport project.