The man at the center of a massive alleged fraud in the Northeast Kingdom has been a major donor to the Vermont Democratic Party.
Since October of 2012, Jay Peak owner Ariel Quiros and one of his associates have given more than $30,000 to the VDP’s federal committee.
Quiros, the Miami businessman alleged to have run EB-5 projects in the Northeast Kingdom like a Ponzi scheme, gave the Vermont Democratic Party $10,000 in October of 2012. He continued contributing five-figure sums in the following cycle, writing checks totaling $12,000 in September of 2014.
George Gulisano, the chief financial officer at Jay Peak, gave the Vermont Democratic Party $10,000 in October of 2014. Gulisano’s residence is in Miami, Florida, according to Federal Elections Commission filings. Gulisano’s donation to Vermont Democrats marked an odd deviation from his previous political gifts, which included two contributions to Phil Gramm, a conservative Republican senator from Texas. Gulisano also gave contributions to the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee, according to SEC filings.
Christina Amestoy, communications director at the VDP, says party officials were as shocked as everyone else when news of the alleged fraud broke Thursday.
“At the time of these donations the party wasn’t aware of anything that wouldn’t have raised a red flag,” Amestoy says. “These were seen a donations coming from people who were looking to revitalize the Kingdom and help improve the economy up there.”
Asked whether, in light of the revelations, the Vermont Democratic Party would return the funds, Amestoy says that’s an open question.
“This is all new information to us. We were reading along with the rest of the state yesterday,” Amestoy says. “I believe it’s going to be an ongoing conversation over how we will proceed. But it’s important to note these were past contributions in past cycles, and so that money has been spent.”
According to FEC filings, Bill Stenger, the Jay Peak CEO who allegedly helped Quiros orchestrate the fraud, has also been a healthy donor to both Democratic and Republican causes. Stenger has given more than $5,000 to Sen. Patrick Leahy since 1998. At a press conference on Friday afternoon, Leahy said he intends to donate the equivalent of whatever Stenger or Quiros have contributed to economic development initiatives in the Northeast Kingdom.
Stenger also gave the Vermont Republican Federal Elections Committee $2,000 in 2010, according to FEC filings. He gave $1,500 to Rep. Peter Welch - $500 in 2008 and $1,000 in 2013 - and $500 to Howard Dean's presidential campaign in 2003.
Pinning down Quiros’ and Stenger’s contributions in state-level politics is more research-intensive, and it isn’t immediately clear how much the men have donated to candidates in recent years, Democratic or Republican. A previous analysis by Vermont Public Radio showed that Stenger and Quiros, through themselves, family members and limited liability companies, gave at least $14,000 to Gov. Peter Shumlin’s campaigns in 2012 and 2014.
Shumlin said Thursday that the fact that he reformed the EB-5 oversight structure in ways that uncovered their fraud shows he wasn’t unduly influenced by their largesse.
“I think it’s a testament to the fact that campaign contributions don’t make a difference that I set up a structure that found this out and brought us to where we are today,” Shumlin said.
A Shumlin spokesperson noted that money from Quiros and Stenger "was raised and spent in previous election cycles, before these allegations came to the Governor’s attention."
Asked whether the governor would return the contributions, the spokesperson said Shumlin isn't running for reelection, and that "any money remaining in his campaign account will be used to support non-profits, charities, causes, and potentially candidates that are moving Vermont forward."
According to data on file at the National Institute on Money in State Politics, Stenger gave $2,000 to Brian Dubie’s gubernatorial campaign in 2010, a cycle during which he also gave $1,000 to Republican candidate for lieutenant governor Mark Snelling, and $250 to Republican candidate for secretary of state Jason Gibbs.
Jay Peak gave $1,000 to former Gov. James Douglas in 2006, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, and the Quiros family gave another $400 to Douglas in 2004.
This post was edited at 3:26 p.m. on 4/15/16