Claims have been made that Vermont senator Bernie Sanders’ wife Jane knowingly misrepresented finances to obtain loans for Burlington College, where she was president until she resigned in 2011.
According to public records released by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), an investigation into the activities of the now-defunct college is in progress. In May 2016, the “crushing weight of debt” incurred by Jane O’Meara Sanders, wife of Bernie Sanders, forced closure of the college.
As president of the institution from 2004-2011, Jane Sanders “oversaw an aggressive effort to enroll more students and expand the campus to accommodate a bigger student body.”
In order to finance a $10 million purchase of 32 acres from the Roman Catholic diocese, Jane Sanders reportedly secured some “hefty loans” at the end of 2010. To secure the loans, Sanders claimed that the college had funds to pay for it via $2 million in fundraising commitments and pledges.
However, Burlington College only brought in a fraction of that amount.
“It was within a relatively short time after closing [the deal], they were experiencing financial problems that made it impossible to pay the diocese,” a source for Heatstreet says. Burlington ended up defaulting on the loan, leaving the Roman Catholic diocese at a loss of between $1.5 million and $2 million. The land had been sold to pay part of a $17 million sexual-abuse settlement.
According to Heatstreet, Catholic parishioners in Vermont sent a letter to the U.S. attorney in January along with Brady Toensing, vice chair of the Vermont Republican Party. Toensing believes Jane Sanders purposely misrepresented the amount of fundraising the college was set to receive, and asked the U.S. attorney to investigate Sanders for federal bank fraud.
According to emails obtained by VTDigger through a public records request, earlier this year, the U.S. attorney for Vermont and an FBI agent were involved in an investigation. They’ve reviewed Burlington College records from the Vermont Agency of Education (VAE), who took possession of them when the college closed in May.
Neither agency would comment on the investigation, with spokespeople for both agencies saying that they typically don’t “confirm whether or not there’s a current investigation.” Further, they don’t “comment on any active investigation.”
But the email’s obtained by VTDigger seem to indicate that there is an ongoing investigation.
In one Dec. 21, 2016, email, a lawyer for Burlington College told state officials, “You are aware that there is a DOJ investigation into some aspects of the College’s activities.” He also gave the VAE permission to shred unnecessary records.
Another email from Dec. 22, 2016, revealed a statement by Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul J. Van de Graaf. He told the VAE, “I think we need to make sure there is nothing significant to our federal investigation before [the records] are destroyed.”
Burlington College’s board of trustees chair confirmed that an FBI probe “had been going on for more than a year,” according to VTDigger, and that “at least one former school employee was subpoenaed as part of the probe.”
Jane Sanders did not comment, but last year, a spokesman for Bernie Sanders said the allegations of fraud were “recycled, discredited garbage.”
When Sanders resigned as president of Burlington College, she took a $200,000 severance.
If found guilty of federal bank fraud, Sanders could reportedly face up to 30 years in prison and $1 million in fines.
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