NEWPORT - On the eve of his incarceration, Bill Stenger shared his thoughts on the rise and fall of EB-5 in the Northeast Kingdom.

Once almost universally viewed as a savior, Stenger, 73, begins a 15-month federal sentence today at a minimum-security prison in Ayer, Mass. - the result of a felony conviction for knowingly and willfully submitting false documents to the Vermont Regional Center (VRC) through his role in the Jay Peak Biomedical Research Park (AnC Vermont).

Over the better part of a decade, Stenger successfully led efforts to revitalize the NEK economy in a series of projects formally spearheaded by Ariel Quiros - the former owner of Jay Peak and Burke Mountain.

Quiros and various associates have since been convicted of defrauding investors of more than $50 million by using new investments to back-fill earlier projects to keep alive the illusion that the developments were stable and safe investments.

Stenger was never accused of pocketing any of the investor funds in the EB-5 projects developed and still hoped for in the ambitious series of developments which relied on immigrant investor pledges of a half-million dollars per investor, in exchange for which those investors would hope for a return on their investment, and permanent green cards once their investments could be proven to be linked to job creation.

Stenger has plenty of regrets - foremost among them the empty block in downtown Newport that was supposed to be developed as part of vast EB-5 plans, including a biomedical facility in Newport.

Those plans came to a screeching halt when a federal investigation froze all assets connected to the various efforts and determined the AnC Bio project was a near-total fraud.

The hole in the center of town remains painful for Stenger. But there are things for which he remains proud.

“I wanted to certainly get across the point that’s what been built at Jay and what’s been built at Burke are worth being proud of,” Stenger said. “The community can be proud of it, the job creation has been enormous. Both places are better places than they were without the investment that was made there.”

For the failures, Stenger admits fault. “My biggest regret was not watching the funds closely enough,” he said. “Quiros and (Alex) Choi (an associate of Quiros) had a budget for the construction of that project and it was fraudulent, and none of us in Vermont knew that.”

Right up until the final moments, Stenger said he clung to the hope that the biomedical project could happen and “be a tremendous, diverse economic engine for Newport.”

“The fact that Newport still has that block that doesn’t have anything on it troubles me greatly,” said Stenger. “Hopefully the state and the city can work to improve that. When that block was torn down, it needed to be torn down, it was in terrible shape.”

It’s been eight years since the demolition there, and Stenger remains hopeful for a phoenix on the site near his home. “It has great potential and I just regret that I wasn’t able to bring that plan to conclusion.”

The projects were closer than has been widely reported, Stenger says.

“Vermont projects and in particular, Jay Peak’s projects, were incredibly popular worldwide, and I think had AnC Bio not imploded and some of the other things that Quiros did with the money not happened, it would have been very successful,” he explains. “Jay Peak has created hundreds and hundreds of quality jobs that are year-round, and the staff are magnificent, and most all of them are local people, so the impact has been profound.”

With rooms and meals taxes, income taxes, real estate taxes and sales taxes, Stenger said the benefits to the Vermont economy are substantial from both Jay Peak and Burke Mountain Resort’s investments and businesses that continue to operate, albeit under federal receivership since the resorts were seized by the SEC in April of 2016.

“The benefit to the community and the state are really profound and I think the people who are involved at Jay, the staff at Jay who helped bring about the construction, the development, the operations at Jay, can be incredibly proud of what they have done, and I am incredibly proud of what they have accomplished also,” said Stenger, who devoted the lion’s share of his life’s work to building the ski resort.

Stenger said, “My deepest regret is that I didn’t pay enough attention to what was going on.”

“I’m very, very sorry that I trusted someone I thought I could trust in terms of watching over and managing the money … that’s my mistake, and I am paying a price for that,” he said.

Stenger said until he was shown documents by the U.S. Attorney that proved that the budget for AnC Bio was a house of cards, nearly a complete fraud, he had no idea. “I had no knowledge of it, nor did anyone in Vermont who was working on the project.”

In the just over six years since the EB-5 scandal became worldwide news and Stenger saw his once untarnished reputation crash, he has not hidden or given up on the promises he once trumpeted across the region to Chambers of Commerce, to local colleges, to small businesses across the Northeast Kingdom’s three sparsely populated counties.

“There are a lot of people who live here and know how hard it is to be successful, but are committed to it nonetheless,” Stenger said. “There are some good things happening in Newport… The site of AnC Bio is going to be owned by the city. The city has a tenant that they’re working closely with and I think it’s going to lead to a lot of job creation there. I’ve worked very hard in the last few years to try to find somebody to occupy that space with the help of NVDA and others. It definitely looks like that’s going to be happening.”

Stenger said he hopes to be back before 15 months. “When I get back, when I get through this experience, I hope to be part of the community and hopefully contribute. It’s been something since 1985 I’ve been embedded in Newport and the NEK, and there is no reason to change or care any less… if anything - I hope to care more.”

In the meantime, there’s plenty for which to be proud.

“The thing I am probably most proud of is the job creation and the fact that the vast majority of the jobs are local people, and their passion for the resorts - both of them - couldn’t be higher. I am proud of that, and feel I have contributed to that. You can build great bricks and mortar and both of these resorts have got people who are dedicated and hardworking to make them successful, and I’m proud to be a part of that.”

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