Brady Toensing, the vice chair of the Vermont Republican Party, alleged Thursday that Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) Senate office pressured a bank to approve a loan to Burlington College while his wife, Jane O’Meara Sanders, was its president.
A spokesman for Sanders dismissed the allegation as “preposterous,” “politically instigated” and an example of an outrageous personal attack.
Toensing, a lawyer, said he was following up on a request he made in January for a federal investigation of Sanders’ wife in her former role as president of Burlington College. Toensing alleged then that in applying for a loan to purchase a new campus, O’Meara Sanders overstated by nearly $2 m
illion the amount of donations the college had received.
On Thursday, Toensing told a federal prosecutor he had new information.
“I was recently approached and informed that Senator Bernie Sanders’ office improperly pressured People’s United Bank to approve the loan application,” Toensing said in letters to U.S. Attorney Eric Miller and to Fred Gibson Jr., the acting inspector general of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.
In an interview, Toensing declined to reveal who approached him or what evidence the person offered. Asked what kind of pressure was allegedly exerted, he said, “The bank was told to get it done.”
The bank’s Vermont president, Michael Seaver, did not return a call seeking comment.
Miller said he cannot say whether his office will pursue the allegation. “As a general matter, my office does not comment on public requests to conduct criminal investigations. Every such request is evaluated for appropriate action, and we are committed to enforcing federal law in a neutral and impartial manner,” he said via email.
Miller has similarly declined to say whether there is an investigation underway based on Toensing’s January request.
The college announced May 16 that it is closing, citing “the crushing weight of the debt incurred by the purchase of the archdiocese property on North Avenue” — funded by the loan. Asked at the time if there was an investigation, interim president Carol Moore said, “No comment.”
Board member Tom Torti told Seven Days, “I have heard that federal people have been asking questions.” But he said he knew nothing more.
Toensing also wrote Thursday to Sanders’ Senate office, asking the senator to release records including his Senate office’s correspondence with People’s United Bank and the Vermont Economic Development Authority.
In both letters, Toensing said he was representing Wendy Wilton of Rutland, a Vermont Catholic whose interest in the situation stems from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington’s sale of property to Burlington College. Wilton is a former Republican state senator who ran unsuccessfully for state treasurer in 2012.
Sanders’ spokesman Michael Briggs pointed to Toensing’s and Wilton’s GOP links in a response to the allegations via email Thursday.
Brady Toensing is the vice chair of the Vermont Republican Party. Wendy Wilkins [sic] is a former Republican candidate for statewide office. Bernie is currently running for president of the United States to make certain that the Republican candidate, Donald Trump, will not become president of the United States and do disastrous harm to our country. Nothing more needs to be said about this preposterous and politically-instigated charge. Sadly, making outrageous and lying personal attacks against candidates and their families is what modern-day Republican politics is all about.