Reporter Debrief: Bill Stenger, Former Jay Peak Developer, Enters Guilty Plea In Federal EB-5 Case
A prominent developer in the Northeast Kingdom and former president of Jay Peak Ski Resort pleaded guilty in federal court Friday for his role in one the largest fraud cases in Vermont.
Bill Stenger, along with Florida businessman Ariel Quiros and two other men, faced criminal charges over their involvement in a scheme to build a biotech facility in Newport. The facility was never built, and the men allegedly embezzled money that they raised for the project through the federal EB-5 program.
On Friday, Stenger pleaded guilty to one count: providing false documents to a federal agency. He faces up to five years in prison and up to three years of supervised release. The court will hold a sentencing hearing this fall.
VPR’s Henry Epp spoke with reporter Liam Elder-Connors. Their conversation below has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Henry Epp: So you were at the federal courthouse in Burlington this afternoon, Liam, when Bill Stenger pled guilty. What was the scene like?
Liam Elder-Connors: Well, there were a lot of reporters in the courtroom, as you might expect. And really what happens is, the judge goes through the plea agreement that the prosecutors and Bill Stenger’s defense lawyers have worked out. And so what it was, was a proceeding where Bill Stenger stood up and kind of answered a lot of questions from the judge, that are part of when you submit a plea, a guilty plea.
So fairly kind of rote procedure, the prosecutors from the government lay out the facts that they have, and exactly what Bill Stenger was pleading guilty to. Then Bill Stenger submitted his guilty plea.
He pled guilty to committing one count of making a false statement on some documents that he had submitted as part of one of the EB-5 projects.
And just a reminder that the EB-5 program is a program where foreign investors can invest up to usually about a half a million dollars and get a green card for that. And the money that they're investing goes for economic development projects. And there were a number of them in the Northeast Kingdom that Stenger and his associates were building.
And so Stenger, along with those associates, three other people were indicted back in 2019. Can you remind us what the allegations against them were?
There were a lot of projects in the Northeast Kingdom that these men were developing using EB-5 funds. But federal prosecutors focused on one specific project, the AnC Bio project, which was going to be a biotech facility built in Newport. It was gonna be a place where they would, you know, grow artificial hearts, kidneys, livers, they'd rent clean rooms, a really high-tech facility.
And prosecutors said in their indictment that this plan was a total fraud, that Stenger and Quiros and the other men had misled investors about the viability of this, about the construction timeline, about how many jobs it would create, and then some of them used that investor money to pay off personal debts and other things.
And so Stenger pled guilty today. What about the other three men the prosecutors charged in this case?
Ariel Quiros pled guilty last August to three charges, which were conspiracy to commit wire fraud, money laundering and concealing material facts.
William Kelly, who prosecutors described as an advisor to Quiros, pled guilty to two charges in June of this year, and those were conspiracy to commit wire fraud and concealment of material facts.
And then the fourth man who was indicted, Alex Choi, is still at large according to prosecutors.
And finally, Liam, there were a lot of developments in the Northeast Kingdom that were at the center of this scandal. What's the status of them?
Well, Jay Peak Ski Resort and Burke Mountain Resort and Hotel were both projects that had gotten some funding through the EB-5 program, and that were being developed by Quiros and Stenger. And those properties have been under federal receivership since 2016. So the receiver has been running those properties, and is currently looking to sell them. So at some point, I'm sure we'll have some news about the sale.
One of the other properties that has been at the center of all of this is a large undeveloped section in downtown Newport, where there was a building that was knocked down, and they were going to build a multi-use area like a mall-residential-office, and that area has not been developed, and is currently in vacant in the middle of downtown Newport.