The EB-5 program was supposed to bring economic salvation to the Northeast Kingdom. Until I left VPR last year, I covered this story as a field reporter, beginning with the press conference at Jay Peak resort in 2012, where Bill Stenger mapped out the projects he said would create 10,000 jobs.
Yes, he would need to find at least $500 million in foreign investments, but that was do-able, he said. That day, his literally silent partner, Ariel Quiros, stood in the shadows, as he generally did at these press briefings, which were often attended and applauded by smiling political and business leaders.
Eventually, VtDigger, VPR, and other media outlets started to ask probing questions as construction dates were delayed and financial documents were demanded by - but not always supplied to - state and federal watchdogs. It was hard to tell, at first, whether Vermont’s Department of Financial Regulation, which escrowed some of the funds Stenger said were needed to move the projects along, was making it harder for construction workers to get paid and investors to be found, or whether Stenger and Quiros were themselves to blame for mounting delays. According to the Securities and Exchange Commission, they were indeed at fault - not just because they were lousy managers, but because they were, allegedly, crooks.
That’s yet to be proven, but if true, would explain why the most improbable projects - a bio-tech center, a whole city block in Newport, a fancy airport terminal - seemed to start and then mysteriously stall. The only two exceptions: Jay Peak and Burke Mountain Hotel and Conference Center. They may have looked like cash cows, so that seems to be where some of the money went - except for the 30 million the SEC alleges landed in Quiros’s pocket.
Even the partners’ doubters were stunned by the SEC’s allegations of massive wrongdoing. The filing spread quickly on a new Facebook page, with over 3000 followers, called “Friends of Burke Mountain.” The group formed a few weeks ago after 180 employees, many of whom had not yet even started work at the still shuttered hotel, were laid off at Burke. Those form-letter pink slips capped two years of shoddy treatment of employees, skiers, customers, and local businesses by the de facto resort manager, Ariel Quiros’s son, Ary.
There’s plenty of valid outrage on that Facebook page. But there’s also - typical of Kingdom resilience - steely determination to rise up, move on, and keep both resorts open for business.