Burlington College then-president Jane O’Meara Sanders, wife of failed presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, is currently under investigation by FBI officials for her mishandling of the $10 million lakefront campus during her tenure, which eventually led to the school going bankrupt and closing.
A new report shows that Burlington College’s finances, which are laid out on a spreadsheet filled with discrepancies, highlight the major donors who helped finance the college during its initial stages. However, as mentioned prior, the discrepancies concern the donors themselves; some are claiming they never pledged the amount that’s being listed on the spreadsheet.
Out of all the donors listed, at least four so far have challenged the listed amount of their donations, leading investigating officials to believe the donations were exaggerated to mislead the bank.
David V. Dunn, a former member of Burlington College’s board of trustees, claims the board began to doubt the authenticity of the capital campaign donations in the summer of 2011. Dunn said the college’s finance office indicated that actual donations were less than what was originally represented, and the questionable actions of exaggerating the listed amounts eventually led to the removal of Sanders as president in October 2011.
A second former trustee, Jonathan Leopold, who served for six years on the board, denies this claim. He said the board had no doubts about the approximately $2.6 million in listed capital campaign pledges, but were more concerned that additional fundraising efforts had stalled. The college needed to raise $6 million to overcome the debt of the $10 million property purchase. College leaders also planned to renovate the spacious new campus, in hopes to attract new students and their tuition dollars. Essentially, the plan was to double enrollment.
“We didn’t have a strong history of capital campaigns, and we didn’t have an alumni base that lent itself to a capital campaign, so we knew that it was going to be a big lift,” said Leopold.
Sanders reportedly reached out to wealthy contacts, including businessman and philanthropist Tony Pomerleau and philanthropist Crea Lintilhac in hopes that they would contribute some of their own money as donors.
The sum of the confirmed pledges on the original spreadsheet was $2.67 million. However, the total amount of potential donations, including unconfirmed pledges, was listed at $5.16 million.
A few donors are now publicly challenging the fact that amounts listed in their names are incorrect. In a report by the Burlington Free Press, they provide a bulleted breakdown highlighting these discrepancies:
- College trustees and financial statements indicate that the college’s major capital campaign donor, Corinne Bove Maietta, promised to give $1 million upon her death. The bequest is listed instead as a series of cash payments in the college’s list of donations. Maietta has spoken about the bequest with the news organization VTDigger but could not be reached for further comment.
- One former trustee, David V. Dunn, says his initials appear on the document next to an $18,000 confirmed pledge, but he never made any pledge.
- Another former trustee, Rob Michalak, believes his initials are marked down for a $5,000 commitment. The pledge was lower than $5,000, Michalak said, while declining to disclose the amount in his records.
- A third trustee, Ron Leavitt, told VTDigger in 2015 that though he was listed as a $60,000 donor, he never pledged that amount. He said he gave only $30,000. Leavitt could not be reached for further comment.
- Tony Pomerleau, who was listed as an unconfirmed $1 million donor on the list, said he offered the gift to Sanders as a matching donation if the college was able to secure a first $1 million. There is no indication on the donor list that the pledge was dependent on another gift.
Under a separation agreement, Sanders left Burlington College as president, and the school ultimately was unable to fulfill its fundraising or enrollment goals. The debt from the property purchase eventually led to the college’s failure and closure in May 2016. Earlier in June of 2017, Sanders hired Burlington attorney Rich Cassidy, a longtime Bernie supporter, and Attorney Larry Robbins to represent the couple as the investigation into the mishandling of the college funds continues.
In a July interview with the Boston Globe, Jane Sanders spoke out against Brady Toensing, a Republican candidate for US attorney who was responsible for exposing her activities at the college, thus triggering the DOJ investigation. Sanders stated in the interview, “I find it incredibly sexist that basically he’s going after my husband by destroying my reputation, and that’s not OK.”
In his original complaint with the bank fraud allegations against Sanders, Toensing said, “Ms. Sanders’s privileged status as the wife of a powerful United States Senator seems to have inoculated her from the robust underwriting that would have uncovered the apparent fraudulent donation claims she made.”
In an interview also in July, Toensing reportedly said, “My goal is for a full, fair, and impartial investigation — that’s all I care about. That people be treated the same regardless of status in this system.”
In June, the senator defended his wife in an interview with CNN’s Erin Burnett. “My wife is about the most honest person I know,” Sanders said.
In the interview, Sen. Sanders contended that Toensing instigated the potential investigation for political reasons, claiming it began five years after his wife left her position at the college but during his presidential campaign, “coincidentally, no doubt,” the failed presidential candidate said.
“I think it’s fairly pathetic that when people are involved in public life, it’s not only that they get attacked, but it’s their wives and their families that get attacked. When she came to that college, it was failing financially and academically,” Sanders said. “When she left it, it was in better shape than it had ever been.”
Sanders declined to answer further questions regarding the alleged probe, and said that he would “let it play out.”
In 2016 alone, the Sanders duo made $865,000 selling books about socialistic ideologies. Sen. Sanders’ government salary totals approximately $174,000 a year. Along with his book royalties, the public servant made roughly $1,052,000 in 2016.
After his presidential nomination was thrown to Hillary Clinton, Bernie and Jane Sanders went out and bought a $575,000 lakefront home in North Hero, Vermont and were also allowed to conceal the lavish purchase behind an entity called the Islands Family Trust.
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