This is an important example of left-wing hypocrisy:
Is everyone in the United States aware that the FBI is investigating Bernie Sanders for fraud?
NBC’s Chuck Todd didn’t mention it in his interview with Sanders about last week’s special elections in Georgia and South Carolina. I can appreciate that the network is proud that Meet the Press is in its 70th year, but, please, give people the full story:
In May 2016, Burlington College in Vermont had to close. It went broke. Sanders’s wife Jane had been a recent Burlington College president.
On June 22, 2017, Politico published Harry Jaffe’s article, ‘Jane Sanders Lawyers Up’, which recaps the background. Jaffe, who has been following Sanders’s career since the 1970s, is the editor-at-large for Washingtonian magazine and the author of Why Bernie Sanders Matters. Excerpts and a summary follow.
Investigative reporters had been breaking stories about a federal investigation into allegations that the senator’s wife, Jane Sanders, had committed fraud in obtaining bank loans for the now defunct Burlington College, and that Sanders’s Senate office had weighed in.
In May 2017, Sanders blamed the story on President Donald Trump’s campaign manager in Vermont:
Sanders had never responded to questions about the case, but he took the bait this time. Briefly.
“Well, as you know,” he said, “it would be improp— this implication came from Donald Trump’s campaign manager in Vermont. Let me leave it at that, because it would be improper at this point for me to say anything more.”
Sanders repeated the accusation:
“Yes,” Sanders responded, “it is nonsense. But now that there is a process going on, which was initiated by Trump’s campaign manager, somebody who does this all of the time, has gone after a number of Democrats and progressives in this state. It would be improper at this point for me to add any more to that.”
Investigators are looking into whether Senator Sanders’s office used his influence to obtain a loan from People’s United Bank to help bail out the college.
Sanders is correct in saying that Brady Toensing, an attorney who chaired Trump’s Vermont campaign, notified authorities. Politico reports that Toensing sent a letter in January 2016:
Toensing, in an email to Politico Magazine, notes, “The investigation was started more than a year ago under President Obama, his Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and his United States Attorney, all of whom are Democrats.”
Politico says that Mr and Mrs Sanders are now seeking top lawyers:
Jeff Weaver, Sanders’ longtime top political adviser who heads Sanders’ political organization, Our Revolution, confirms to Politico Magazine that Bernie and Jane Sanders have lawyered up. The couple has retained Rich Cassidy, a well-connected Burlington attorney and Sanders devotee, and Larry Robbins, the renowned Washington-based defense attorney who has represented I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby and disgraced former Rep. Bill Jefferson, to represent Jane Sanders in the matter.
It’s now Trump’s Department of Justice that is handling the investigation which could proceed via a US Attorney for Vermont, not yet appointed.
The facts of the case are complicated. They are steeped in Vermont’s peculiar educational culture and the incestuous financial system in Burlington, Sanders’ hometown and political base, where some Sanders backers worry that with Trump’s Justice Department calling the shots, the facts—intricate as they are—may not determine the outcome.
Reporters knew about it a year and a half ago:
On January 10, 2016, in the midst of Sanders’ sudden stardom—just weeks before the votes in Iowa and New Hampshire—the U.S. attorney for Vermont was sent a “Request for an Investigation into Apparent Federal Bank Fraud.”
Backed by six exhibits and a dozen documents, the four-page letter described how Jane Sanders had “orchestrated” the purchase of 33 acres along Lake Champlain in Burlington, Vermont’s largest city, where her husband had minted his populist political brand as mayor. The deal closed in 2010, when the senator’s wife was president of Burlington College, a tiny, obscure, nontraditional school that always seemed to be struggling for students and funds. The letter alleged that to secure a $10 million loan and execute her grand plan to expand the college, Jane Sanders had falsified and inflated nearly $2 million that she’d claimed donors had pledged to repay the loans.
Sanders had “successfully and intentionally engaged in a fraudulent scheme to actively conceal and misrepresent material facts from a federal financial institution,” the letter alleged. It pressed for a federal investigation into potential bank fraud.
However, Politico says that reporters did not ask the Sanders about the letter or exhibits, because they were too intrigued by his popularity with voters.
Beyond the glare, federal investigators and FBI agents started to pull apart the $10 million financial arrangement. They showed up at Burlington College to sift through hard drives, audit reports and spreadsheets. They began to interview donors, board members and past president Carol Moore. “I was contacted and spoke with an FBI agent numerous times last spring, again last summer,” Moore told Vermont Public Radio in May 2017, “and recently, maybe a month ago.”
A second letter followed, alleging Senator Sanders’s office was involved:
A second letter to federal prosecutors in early 2016 alleged that Senator Sanders’ office had pressured the bank to approve the loan application submitted by Jane Sanders. “Improper pressure by a United States Senator is a serious ethical violation,” the letter asserted.
It is surprising how far back this story goes.
Before discussing that, however, let’s look at a bit of history. Burlington College was founded in 1972 by a literature professor, Steward LaCasce, who had envisaged an institution of higher learning without walls and with a high degree of autonomy. He started Burlington in his living room with 14 students. Anyone reading this who was not alive then should know that the early 1970s was still a time of flower power and experimental lifestyles which held a lot of appeal for a niche group.
Although LaCasce’s fledgling institution was not known as Burlington College initially, it got its name once classes moved to a former grocery store in Burlington.
When Jane Sanders was appointed president in 2004, Burlington College had 200 students. She had big plans for the college’s expansion. However, those did not materialise immediately. In the meantime, she was proving unpopular with other faculty and even students:
In the four years since she had taken over, two dozen faculty and staff had left the tiny college. The Student Government Association in late 2008 described a “toxic and disruptive environment on campus.” Nearly half of the students and faculty members signed a petition demanding a meeting about the “crisis in leadership.” Even so, Sanders’ salary rose to $150,000 in 2009, according to college records, as tuition increased by $5,000, to $22,407 in 2011, and enrollment dropped to 156 students.
Despite this, she carried on with the support of college trustees.
In 2010, she decided to act on expansion. She planned to move the college to larger grounds, on the desirable Lake Champlain, no less. The local Roman Catholic diocese needed to sell a magnificent building — a former orphanage and rectory — because they needed to fund settlements from child abuse lawsuits:
The property went on the market for $12.5 million. The Diocese took Burlington College’s offer of $10 million, which seemed to be a bargain.
There was only one problem. Burlington College could not afford it:
… the college was nearly broke. Its annual budget hovered just below $4 million. Even at a discounted rate, the land would be an extravagant purchase. Yet Sanders was able to craft a complex set of deals to finance the acquisition.
The state’s Educational and Health Buildings Finance Agency voted to issue $6.5 million in tax exempt bonds. People’s United Bank loaned Burlington College $6.5 million to buy the bonds. The Catholic church loaned the school $3.65 million in a second mortgage. To secure the loans, Sanders assured the bank and the church that the college had $5 million in likely pledges and $2.4 million in confirmed pledges, which she would be able to use to pay off the debt. And finally, the college received a $500,000 bridge loan from Anthony Pomerleau, a wealthy Burlington developer close with Bernie and Jane Sanders.
Yet, landscaping the campus required an additional $6 million:
To many locals, it didn’t add up.
In September 2011, Sanders took reporters on a tour of the new campus, overlooking Lake Champlain.
However, one month later, the board of trustees persuaded her to resign. Financial problems — repayments and unfulfilled pledges — as well as her continuing conflicts with faculty were the principal reasons.
Regardless, it was too late for the college to recover:
Burlington’s free fall accelerated after the board forced out Sanders. The school had moved into the old buildings on its new campus, and though Sanders had budgeted for more than $3 million in renovations, the structures were in need of rehabilitation that would cost substantially more. Unable to increase enrollment to pay for the added costs, the school lost students.
Even selling off parcels of prime lakefront property to developers did not suffice. The college still could not pay off the loans sufficiently.
The bank called in the loan in April 2016. In May, Burlington College closed its doors — for good.
In a 2015 interview on Vermont Public Radio, Jane Sanders insisted she left the college in good financial condition in 2011.
Trump’s campaign manager, Brady Toensing, became interested in Burlington College’s financial difficulties in July 2014, after an alternative newspaper, Seven Days, carried an in-depth piece on it:
The New England Association of Schools and Colleges had put it on probation because of the school’s shaky finances. The college was about to sell off land to defray its mounting debt.
requested loan documents from the Vermont Educational and Health Buildings Finance Agency that had issued the $6.5 million bonds for the land. The August 1 response from the bonding agency produced a trove of documents that detailed how Jane Sanders convinced the bank and the church that Burlington College could pay back its millions of dollars in loans.
Politico says he shared the documents with Seven Days and a non-profit Vermont website, VTDigger.
Interestingly, it was The Daily Caller — based in Washington DC — that first broke the story on March 26, 2015:
under the headline: “Exclusive: Bernie Sanders’ Wife May Have Defrauded State Agency, Bank.”
VTDigger took it from there (emphases mine below):
Morgan True, reporting for VTDigger, went deeper. Examining the pledges Sanders had listed on documents she signed for the loan, True and other reporters found discrepancies and overstatements.
The records showed that Sanders had assured People’s United Bank and the state bonding agency that the college had $2.6 million in pledges to secure the loan. Internal college audits showed that only $676,000 in actual donations came in from 2010 to 2014. Sanders listed two people as having confirmed pledges for more money than they had offered; neither knew their pledges had been used to support the loan. A third donor had offered a $1 million bequest, to be paid upon her death. Instead, the college’s loan application counted it in funds to be paid out over the next few years.
When media contacted her at the time, Jane Sanders gave no comment.
Brady Toensing had what he needed. He:
wrapped these figures and facts into the January 2016 letter to the U.S. attorney and the FDIC, requesting an investigation into what he termed “apparent federal bank fraud.” In March 2016, Toensing doubled down in another letter to federal officials. This time, he made an allegation that struck to the core of Bernie Sanders’ clean-government image. “As a result of my [initial] complaint,” Toensing wrote, “I was recently approached and informed that Senator Bernard Sanders’s office improperly pressured People’s United Bank to approve the loan application submitted by the Senator’s wife, Ms. Sanders.”
Politico says that proving that Bernie Sanders’s office was involved would be difficult at best, adding that proving bank fraud is also challenging:
Charges of bank fraud, say legal experts, are not easy to prove. “It requires that the act be performed knowingly,” says William Lawler, a former federal prosecutor now with the law firm Vinson & Elkins. “Not every mistake is going to rise to the level of a crime.”
As I write, investigators have not yet finished their work. Once they have done so, they will present their findings to federal prosecutors and the relevant lawyers will:
have discretion on whether or not to bring charges.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the DoJ would then decide whether to prosecute. Remember that Jeff Sessions and Bernie Sanders were both in the Senate together for many years. Sessions will also know what Mr and Mrs Sanders said about Trump on the campaign trail and this year.
The story is on hold for now but is trending on Twitter. However, it will be interesting to see how this materialises, especially, if, as Politico suggests, Brady Toensing is a successful nominee for the post of US Attorney for Vermont.