When your gift horse gets a toothache

The shoe is on the other foot in South Dakota, where his support for introduction of a state run EB-5 program has gotten Republican Senator Mike Rounds into hot water.  

His Democratic opponent, Rick Weiland, and two independent challengers are making it an issue in the current campaign for his Senate seat.

“I don’t think people appreciate that just because you’ve got the money, you can cut to the front of the (immigration) line,” Weiland said. “So I would vote to repeal the program.”

Like South Dakota, the progressive State of Vermont has embraced the EB-5 program as its own and with it come all of the ethical and practical dilemmas attendant on a strictly privileged immigration system.  

Here, by default, ownership goes to our Democratic majority, and most particularly Governor Shumlin who conspicuously trolled for investors overseas, thereby implicitly branding the enterprise with his personal endorsement.

The fact is that legal immigration has mostly been all about money and connections since long before EB-5 status was created.

As anyone who has navigated the troubled waters of U.S. entry through conventional immigration channels will confirm, we haven’t been welcoming the poor, the sick and the huddled masses since at least the1920’s. If you couldn’t claim to be a political refugee and didn’t have distinct economic potential in the way of money or highly desirable skills, you went to the back of the line.

All the EB-5 program added to the mix was the opportunity to target some of the already existing financial discrimination in such a way as to potentially create job opportunities where they were most needed.

I get that, and I understand why everyone was so excited when Bill Stenger announced his big plans to put the program to work for the Northeast Kingdom (and not incidentally, for his own personal enrichment.)

It was a “gift horse.”  

No one – not the good folks in the Northeast Kingdom, nor the would be line-cutters who offered their cash – no one was inclined to check its dental work.

Now come the tears and excuses.

News that Stenger and his partner, Ariel Quiros, had waited nine months after dissolving the partnership that held the Tram House Lodge at Jay Peak before notifying 35 EB-5 investors of the change was not well received; not by the state nor by the investors.

Now, there are allegations that Vermont Regional Center executive director Brent Raymond, charged by the state with oversight of the project, allowed his personal relationship with the developer to undermine his responsibility to the investors.

Developers are speculators, and like all speculators, their rosiest projections cannot always be relied upon. You would think that anyone with half-a-million dollars to invest must be savvy enough to realize that, but it turns out that some of Mr. Stenger’s  investors were not.

Some of those EB-5 “investors” were novices, gambling their entire nest egg without fully understanding the bargain they had made. Whatever the legal truth, an appearance of exploitation is never attractive.

Not only could the state’s investment credibility be damaged by blow-back from disappointed investors, the prestige of Stenger’s “friends in high places,” including Governor Shumlin, is also on the line.

The Governor’s reputation is tied even more closely to Stenger’s changing fortunes by the simple fact that Alexandra Mclean moved almost directly to Stenger’s employ after serving as a close Shumlin aide and campaign manager. In the wake of project reversals, she’s moved on again, but politics has a long memory.

The picture of a Northeast Kingdom renaissance painted by Stenger always sounded a little too good to be true. Even if it had come off without a hitch, it seemed clearly poised to price locals right out of the housing market.

Despite vague promises of retraining “opportunities,” current residents would most likely only qualify for low-paid service jobs while an influx of skilled labor and professionals would fill positions at high-tech businesses that were anticipated to locate there. What would represent a financial boon for the state, might not be so much so for the locals.

The whole thing started to publicly unravel when developer-to-developer relations with Tony Pomerleau soured. In May of this year, Pomerleau declared that he was through waiting to be paid by Stenger for some key waterfront property in Newport that was central to the whole enterprise.

“I’ve been waiting for four years, I can’t wait any longer,” Pomerleau said […] “I haven’t received one dime and we’re talking about a big deal, millions of dollars.”

I guess that’s developer justice for you.

The stakes are high and no one wants to be left holding the bag.

Anyway, as the “renaissance” plan begins more and more to resemble a late-stage game of Jenga, you have to believe the Governor is holding his breath and watching the clock.

About Sue Prent

Artist/Writer/Activist living in St. Albans, Vermont with my husband since 1983. I was born in Chicago; moved to Montreal in 1969; lived there and in Berlin, W. Germany until we finally settled in St. Albans.

2 thoughts on “When your gift horse gets a toothache

  1. was hitched up and pulling the EB-5 bandwagon in the Douglas administration. Governor Douglas was a happy champion of the EB-5 investment for US visa program and took two trips to Asia to promote it to potential investors. Shumlin joined the parade in progress.

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