Ex-ski resort manager faces conviction if visa plan fails

The first of four men accused of a failed plan to build a biotechnology plant in Vermont using tens of millions of dollars in foreign investor money raised through a special visa program faces sentencing Thursday.

William Stenger, 73, the former president of Jay Peak Ski Resort, pleaded guilty to providing false documents last August. In return, nine fraud allegations were dropped.

Federal prosecutors have asked for a five-year sentence, the maximum sentence under the plea deal, while Stenger’s attorneys have asked for house arrest.

Stenger and Miami businessman Ariel Quiros, the former owner of Jay Peak and Burke Mountain ski resorts, and two other men were charged in 2019 over the failed plan to build the AnC Bio facility in Newport, Vermont, using millions, collected through the EB-5 visa program, which encourages foreigners to invest in US projects that create jobs in exchange for a chance at permanent US residency.

Government attorneys say Stenger came up with the AnC Vermont EB-5 project idea, campaigned for it and lied to investors, the Vermont Regional Center, US Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Securities and Exchange Commission about his earnings and job prospects. They say Stenger was responsible for raising over $80 million from investors “on the basis of lies and fraud.”

The federal bankruptcy trustee tasked with overseeing the ski resorts and EB-5 projects “provided a partial refund” for the investors, but the investor group still “lost millions of dollars,” prosecutors said. Prosecutors also say that Stenger authorized tens of millions of dollars in cost overruns on previous EB-5 developments at Jay Peak and the misuse of investor funds to pay for those overruns.

Stenger’s attorneys say his primary motivation was to develop and improve the economy of the rural Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, and he saw the EB-5 program as an opportunity to create “good, high-paying jobs,” according to court documents. They say that not an hour goes by when Stenger does not regret his actions and say that both he and his wife have significant health problems.

Three years prior to the criminal charges, the Federal Securities and Exchange Commission and the state of Vermont alleged that Quiros and Stenger were involved in a “massive eight-year fraudulent scheme.” The civil allegations concerned the misuse of more than $200 million of about $400 million raised “in a Ponzi-like manner” by foreign investors for various ski resort developments through the EB-5 visa program.

Quiros and Stenger have settled civil lawsuits with the SEC, with Quiros giving up more than $80 million in assets, including the two resorts. Quiros has pleaded guilty to criminal charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, money laundering and concealing essential information in the failed plant plan and is awaiting conviction. William Kelly, an advisor to Quiros, has pleaded guilty to two counts. A fourth man, Jong Weon (Alex) Choi, a businessman in South Korea, remains at large, according to a federal court.

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