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Opinion

What Are They Thinking?

I’m struggling to reconcile the unfolding Jay Peak scandal and the “we did a great job” remarks of our elected administration officials. According to the SEC, the developers misused $200M.

Politicians are concerned about injuring Vermont “business reputation,” but reputation is founded on integrity – which is not about controlling information, but about acting on it to ensure integrity.

If proven, this would be the single largest fraud in Vermont’s 225-year history, involving 700 immigrants from 74 countries. The State’s potential liability approximates 5% of our annual $5.5B budget and could, when all the criminal and civil actions are tallied levy a $200+M liability on Vermont’s 325,000 taxpayers. A lot is at stake.

Two vital tenets of democracy are transparency and accountability of elected officials. Press efforts to rightfully obtain public records through FOIA requests are being met with delays and price tags designed to stonewall disclosure. This isn’t transparency. The open talk about destroying executive branch emails should send shivers down the spines of Vermonters.

Precisely because politicians are elected to conduct the people’s business, the people have a right to know why, how, and when. Civic shrugs, administrative backpedaling, and legislative ignorance combine to form a petri dish for corruption, and corruption is much harder to root out than it is to prevent.

Some of this alleged fraud occurred under Secretary Pat Moulton’s watch. For her to now blame the U.S. Immigration Service for not responding to her request that investors’ requests “…be met favorably when these investors apply for their green cards,” seems both arrogant and naïve.

The EB-5 program, with all its ethical ambiguities, is a matter of law. Efforts by Vermont politicians to lower the blowback on themselves by demanding the Feds circumvent the program’s legal process in order to relieve defrauded and angry investors is reprehensible.

The investors are not the only victims. Unpaid contractors await payment of $4.5 million and the citizens of Newport have a collection of cellar holes as the centerpiece of their new downtown.

I applaud the press corps for doing its job despite the administration’s urging to back off. Every Vermonter should want the press corps to succeed so we understand what happened and why. This is not punitive. It’s responsible democracy. And that democracy – beleaguered as it might be at the moment – is ours.

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