Ex-ski resort exec faces sentencing in failed visa plan case

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

William Stenger, 73, the former president of the Jay Peak ski resort, pleaded guilty last August to providing false documents. In exchange, nine fraud charges were dropped.

Federal prosecutors have requested a five-year sentence, the maximum under the plea deal, while Stenger's lawyers have asked for home confinement.

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

Government lawyers say Stenger came up with the AnC Vermont EB-5 project idea, championed it, and lied to investors, the Vermont Regional Center, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Securities and Exchange Commission about its revenue and job prospects. They say Stenger was responsible for raising over $80 million from investors “based on lies and deceit.”

The federal receiver appointed to oversee the ski resorts and the EB-5 projects “provided partial restitution” to the investors but the investor group is still “out millions of dollars,” prosecutors said. Prosecutors also say Stenger authorized tens of millions of dollars in cost overruns on earlier EB-5 developments at Jay Peak as well as the misuse of investor funds to pay those overruns.

Stenger's lawyers say his primary motivation has been to develop and improve the economy of Vermont's rural Northeast Kingdom and he saw the EB-5 program as a chance to create “good high-paying jobs,” according to court documents. They say not an hour goes by that Stenger doesn't regret his actions and say both he and his wife have significant health issues.

Three years before the criminal indictment, the the federal Securities and Exchange Commission and the state of Vermont alleged that Quiros and Stenger took part in a “massive eight-year fraudulent scheme.” The civil allegations involved misusing more than $200 million of about $400 million raised from foreign investors for various ski area developments through the EB-5 visa program “in Ponzi-like fashion.”

Quiros and Stenger settled civil charges with the SEC, with Quiros surrendering 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 the concealment of material information in the failed plant plan and awaits sentencing. William Kelly, an advisor to Quiros, has pleaded guilty to two charges. A fourth man, Jong Weon (Alex) Choi, a businessman in South Korea, remains at large, according to the federal court.

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