Probe of Jane San­ders land deal gains speed

$6.7M loan made for Burling­ton Col­lege, which closed

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Shawn Boburg and Jack Gil­lum

A fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion into a land deal led by Jane San­ders, the wife and po­lit­i­cal ad­viser of Sen. Bernie San­ders, has ac­cel­er­ated in re­cent months — with pros­e­cu­tors haul­ing off more than a dozen boxes of records from the Ver­mont col­lege she once ran and call­ing a state of­fi­cial to tes­tify be­fore a grand jury, ac­cord­ing to in­ter­views and doc­u­ments.

A half-dozen peo­ple said in in­ter­views in re­cent days that they had been con­tacted by the FBI or fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors, and for­mer col­lege trustees told The Washington Post that lawyers rep­re­sent­ing Jane San­ders had in­ter­viewed them to learn what po­ten­tial wit­nesses might tell the govern­ment.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion cen­ters on the 2010 land pur­chase that re­lo­cated Burling­ton Col­lege to a new cam­pus on more than 32 acres along Lake Cham­plain. While lin­ing up a $6.7 mil­lion loan and ad­di­tional fi­nanc­ing, San­ders told col­lege trustees and lenders that the col­lege had com­mit­ments for mil­lions of dol­lars in dona­tions that could be used to re­pay the loan, ac­cord­ing to for­mer trustees and state of­fi­cials.

Trustees said they later dis­cov­ered that many of the donors had not agreed to the amounts or tim­ing of the dona­tions listed on doc­u­ments Jane San­ders pro­vided to a state bond­ing agency and a bank. That led to her res­ig­na­tion in 2011 amid com­plaints from some trustees that she had pro­vided in­ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion, for­mer col­lege of­fi­cials said.

The land deal, the of­fi­cials said, be­came a fi­nan­cial al­ba­tross for the 160stu­dent school, con­tribut­ing to its clo­sure last year.

The ques­tions from govern­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tors, as de­scribed by those who were in­ter­viewed or re­ceived subpoe­nas for doc­u­ments, sug­gest the in­ves­ti­ga­tion is fo­cused on Jane San­ders and al­leged bank fraud, and not on her hus­band. But the in­quiry could nonethe­less cre­ate a po­lit­i­cal li­a­bil­ity for the se­na­tor, who was a can­di­date for the 2016 Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion and is the pro­gres­sive move­ment’s most pop­u­lar leader.

A spokesman for the cou­ple, Jeff Weaver, de­nied wrong­do­ing late last week. Weaver told The Post the cou­ple hired a D.C. law firm this spring be­cause they al­lege Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s Jus­tice De­part­ment could use the in­ves­ti­ga­tion as a way to de­rail a po­ten­tial 2020 chal­lenger.

“While the Obama administration was in of­fice, I don’t think any­one thought that these base­less al­le­ga­tions war­ranted hir­ing a lawyer,” Weaver said. “But with Trump and (At­tor­ney Gen­eral) Jeff Ses­sions at the helm, that’s a very dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tion.”

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­gan in early 2016 af­ter Brady Toens­ing, a lawyer who was the state chair­man for Don­ald Trump’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, wrote to the U.S. at­tor­ney and fed­eral bank reg­u­la­tors, al­leg­ing po­ten­tial bank fraud. FBI agents con­ducted in­ter­views last year, but the probe was not pub­licly con­firmed un­til this April, when the lo­cal news out­let VTDig­ger.org re­ported that a fed­eral prose­cu­tor had asked that records from the col­lege be pre­served.

Last week, an at­tor­ney for the Ver­mont Ed­u­ca­tional and Health Build­ings Fi­nanc­ing Agency, which helped the col­lege get fi­nanc­ing, told The Post that its ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor was asked to tes­tify be­fore a grand jury in April. That is the first pub­lic con­fir­ma­tion that pros­e­cu­tors have sought to present ev­i­dence to a grand jury.

The U.S. at­tor­ney’s of­fice in Ver­mont de­clined to com­ment on the case or on the claim that it is po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated.

AP file

Jane San­ders be­came pres­i­dent of Burling­ton Col­lege in 2004.

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